Gaza powers down as politicians play with lives

Sunday 09/07/2017

The Gaza Strip has been suffering from a severe power and energy crisis since Israel bombed Gaza’s sole power plant in 2006. The crisis was compounded by the imposition of the Israeli siege on the Palestinian enclave in 2007 when Hamas took power.

While the siege was intended to make governing Gaza impossible, ten years on the Islamist gover­nors of the area remain in power while the people of Gaza are suffering the consequences of the Hamas-Fatah-Israeli free-for-all.

The Israelis say the siege is necessary to suffocate Hamas and other groups’ supply lines, thereby preventing rocket attacks on Israel. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, insists that it will continue to strike Israel if Gaza is threatened and includes the siege as one of the threats Gaza faces.

This has led to the territory often being left without electrical power, which places vital infra­structure, including hospitals, in difficulty as they try to serve the needs of Gazans.

Gaza’s sole power plant has frequently broken down with Palestinians often enjoying a precious few hours of power before they are once again plunged into darkness. Several efforts to ease the siege to allow essential maintenance and resupply of the power station have failed and the situation has reached a crisis point.

As Israel controls a large portion of the energy infrastructure entering Gaza, the process involves the Palestinian govern­ment collecting money from Gaza’s 2 million residents’ electricity bills to be used to cover the cost of the power supply. This is usually deducted from tax revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Author­ity (PA).

This understanding has been flipped on its head. Hamas has been withholding funds raised from billing Gazans since they took power in 2007 and only recently has the PA under Presi­dent Mahmoud Abbas used this as an excuse to say his administra­tion would halt payments to Israel. In April, Abbas asked Israel to reduce its supply of power to the Gaza Strip. On June 13 Israel announced that it was complying with that request. Palestinians in Gaza now have 2-4 hours of electricity a day.

Whatever the faults of Hamas, Abbas is supposed to be the leader of all Palestinians, including those in Gaza. Instead of finding alternate ways to pressure Hamas, he has played his hand by joining in on the life-choking siege that is affecting regular Palestinians and not Hamas officials. Abbas and Hamas have shown a complete callousness towards Gazans, with the former slashing PA employee salaries in Gaza by almost one-third and the latter seemingly using the outrage stirred in the Gaza Strip to stoke sentiments against the PA. Abbas and Hamas are playing a game of tug-of-war in which the rope is the Palestin­ian people and the umpire is Israel.

Rather than exchanging insults and barbs and engaging in one-upmanship that does not ben­efit the Palestinians but only serves the interests of the Israeli occupation, Hamas and the Fatah-led PA must settle their differences. Otherwise their claims to champion the Palestin­ian people and their cause can only be considered rhetoric, as the people who suffer most due to their bickering are those they claim to represent.

Until the political players introduce some humanity into their considerations, the people of Gaza will continue to be used as pawns in a seemingly never-end­ing game of cat and mouse.

Ultimately, it is not the politi­cians who suffer the conse­quences but ordinary people who just want to lead normal lives. These people are instead being toyed with like bargaining chips in negotiations and political ploys.