In Gaza, fueling cars with cooking oil

Palestinian students wait for a taxi in Gaza City, 13 April 2008. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)


Amna Abu Sido was waiting for a ride at the so-called Universities Junction in the heart of Gaza City on Tuesday afternoon when she explained how difficult her commute has become.

“I take at least two taxis to go back home to the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood from the school I teach at in Talatini street. Taxis are scarce nowadays and this is really adding to our difficulties,” said the 45-year-old schoolteacher from Gaza City.

Transportation has been crippled by Israel’s reduction of fuel imports since last autumn when it declared the Gaza Strip a “hostile entity” after the democratically-elected Hamas government took control of the area. The 25-mile-long coastal enclave has about 4,600 taxis, but the majority of them have stopped operating since last Wednesday, when Israel imposed a closure of fuel imports following an attack by Palestinian resistance fighters on a fueling depot, killing two Israelis. The two fighters were killed by Israeli forces, as well as two Palestinian civilians.

Back at the Gaza City junction where Abu Sido was standing, there were a few other Gaza residents also waiting for a ride, which are harder to come by now that gas stations have shut down across the Strip.

Fifty-year-old Abu Rami al-Shinawi said sarcastically, “Thank God, this is the best situation ever!” He added, “Can you imagine, brother, we might spend three to four hours waiting for a ride which would take only 10 minutes in normal conditions.”

“I have been waiting for a taxi for the past 15 minutes and I am not sure I will be able to get home, three kilometers away,” said al-Shinawai who was contemplating going home by foot.

Also waiting were two teens who were calling out to the few cars passing by, but as there were very few taxis moving at that time, they would also have to wait.

To cope with this already collapsed economy, many taxi drivers in the impoverished Gaza Strip are mixing gasoline with cooking oil to maintain their livelihoods as long as possible, however dangerously.

One driver, a 30-year-old named Shadi from the central Gaza Strip, explained that he mixed two gallons of cooking oil with another gallon of gasoline, the price of which has doubled thanks to the scarcity.

The Gaza Strip Society for Taxi Drivers estimates that only 50 to 60 percent of Gaza’s taxis are operating. Not only affecting those who drive taxis as their source of income, the lack of transportation has made it difficult for patients to access health care, students to reach their schools, and employees to travel to their workplaces. The cuts have grounded ambulances as well.

On Tuesday, four major universities and other places of higher education announced in a Gaza City press conference the suspension of studies due to the inability of students and faculty to reach their schools.

Kamalin Sha’at, head of the Islamic University of Gaza, appealed for pressure on Israel to cease its crippling policy: “We have been forced to make such a painful decision and we are appealing to all worldwide organizations involving the United Nations Secretary General, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the world universities’ unions to exert pressure on the Israeli occupation government to lift the repressive siege and prevent the inevitable collapse of all [aspects] of life here, including academic life.”

Today six UN organizations issued a joint statement spelling out their concern over the cessation of fuel imports to Gaza. “The current situation is a threat to the health and well-being of the population of the Gaza Strip, fifty-six percent of whom are children,” the organizations stated.

Since Israel imposed its increasingly severe fuel cuts last year, local and international human rights and humanitarian organizations have condemned this and other similar Israeli policies as ones of illegal collective punishment.

Israeli media outlets reported yesterday that Israel will resume shipments of fuel and gas for cooking and generating electricity purposes only. The move would not alleviate the gasoline crisis in Gaza, bringing no relief to the teachers and students stranded at Universities Junction.

Rami Almeghari is currently contributor to several media outlets including the Palestine Chronicle, IMEMC, The Electronic Intifada and Free Speech Radio News. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor in chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at rami_almeghari at hotmail.com.

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