Gaza power outages spark protests v Hamas
GAZA CITY - Palestinians, following the example of protests in Iraq and Lebanon demanding improved services, have demonstrated in the Gaza Strip, where rolling electricity blackouts sparked the largest popular demonstrations in years against the enclave’s Hamas rulers.
For several days in mid-September, hundreds of Palestinians in central Gaza, mainly from al-Bureij and Nuseirat refugee camps, took to darkened streets after sundown chanting slogans against Hamas and the energy company it runs.
Elsewhere in Gaza, demonstrators from the southern towns of Rafah and Khan Younis waved torches and burned tyres, prompting brief clashes with the Hamas-run police.
It was not immediately clear if the protesters can sustain the momentum and if they pose any threat to Hamas, which has ruled the region since 2007.
The protests underline growing popular frustration in an area that endured three Israeli wars, suffers from poverty afflicting about half the population of 1.8 million and unemployment estimated at 48%. Gaza is like a prison, with its borders with Israel and Egypt sealed.
Although Gaza residents have been relatively quiet regarding Hamas, the protests underscored a feeling among the populace that the group’s leaders were jaded, creating a precedent for a group that seeks to consolidate its hold on Gaza and set an example that hard-line Islamists can rule successfully.
“We are fed up with this life and with Hamas,” chanted protesters in Bureij, referring to the shaky electricity supply of 4-6 hours a day.
Gazans have often had to live with rolling blackouts but those worsened in the summer with long spans of power cuts reported, partly due to deterioration in lines from Egypt, which along with Israel, supplies 50% of the enclave’s electricity needs.
In Iraq, peaceful but large demonstrations in July and August over frequent power cuts and calls for uprooting state corruption, improving health care, education and other services prompted hasty government reforms, particularly tangible moves to prosecute corrupt officials.
In Lebanon, protests in August came in response to the government’s failure to dispose of accumulated waste, coupled with daily electricity blackouts, water scarcity and political bickering that has kept the country without a president since May 2014.
The Gaza-based Al Mizan rights group blamed the blackouts on the “absence of internal Palestinian unity”, a reference to Hamas’s disputes with the Palestinian Authority (PA), which leads the West Bank.
Hamas and the PA have traded accusations over the blackouts. The PA and the moderate Fatah faction headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Hamas was refusing to pay for its fuel imports from Israel. Hamas blamed Abbas of cooperating with Israel and Egypt to tighten a blockade in place since Hamas took control of Gaza. It accused Abbas of blocking Israeli fuel supplies to Gaza to push its population to revolt against Hamas.
Senior Hamas official Mustafa Sawaf challenged Abbas in a statement on his Facebook page, writing that whatever Abbas does, he will “never be able to uproot Hamas and end its rule of the Gaza Strip”.
Ahmed, a 28-year-old Gaza resident, said power cuts have been persistent since 2007.
“On average days when there is fuel, we receive some electricity every day, but when the feuds between Fatah and Hamas mount, we live in total darkness,” he said.
The Palestinian consensus government of Rami Hamdallah explained that Gaza’s power cuts worsened with longer spans of blackouts in mid-September when Israel sealed off all crossing points to Gaza to mark the Jewish new year. That delayed fuel shipments, forcing power stations in Gaza to shut down.
“We’re not responsible for the crisis of electricity in Gaza. It is the responsibility of those who deliver the power to the population and decide the time schedule for the power delivery,” Hamdallah’s government said in a statement.
Gaza-based political analyst Talal Oukal said the blackouts, which also caused a severe shortage of water, were meant to force Gaza’s population to “accept any political solution in the future and make them forget about their legitimate right for independence for which they have been struggling for ages”.
“The situation in Gaza is unbearable,” he warned. “If it is not immediately resolved, Gaza will explode in the face of everyone.”