Majda Tantesh, 42, lives in the Beit Lahia city in the northern Gaza Strip. Like all of Gaza, the city only gets a few hours of electricity a day. After Monday’s Israeli Security Council ruling, approving the Palestinian Authority’s request to cut Gaza’s electricity supply by 40 percent, Majda told Mondoweiss she only expects things to get worse.
Majda, who has American citizenship, moved back to Gaza in 2009 to be closer to her family and loved ones. When she first moved back to the enclave, they were getting around eight hours of electricity a day. During the past eight years that number has been cut in half.
“We get around four hours of electricity a day now, but still even when the electricity is working, it cuts every half hour for ten to thirty minutes,” she said. “It’s very hard because it’s summer now and so hot here. We need air conditioning, we need fans, we need the refrigerator — we’re always throwing away food because there is no electricity. Our food is constantly going bad and I have to throw it out.”
On Monday Israel’s security cabinet approved the PA’s request to cut Gaza’s electric supply by 40 percent, meaning even shorter periods of electricity for the citizens who have been suffering the devastating effects of a ten-year blockade implemented by the Israeli and Egyptian governments after Hamas won elections in 2007.
Earlier this month, Mondoweiss received leaked documents detailing the correspondence between the PA’s Minister of Finance and Planning, Shukry Bishara and Israel’s Minister of Finance, Moshe Kahlon.
In the letters, Bishara requested that the electric supply, controlled by Israel and paid for by the PA, not be allowed to exceed 25 million shekels ($7.1 million), which will mean a 40 percent cut in Gaza’s electricity.
“The parties responsible for the collection of electricity dues in the Gaza Strip have systematically failed to reimburse the PA for the cost incurred on their behalf,” the PA minister wrote. “Accordingly, it should be clear to all concerned [parties] that we have reached a stage where this state of affairs is no longer acceptable.”
In the letter, dated May 15, the PA minister asked for the cuts to be implemented within the week. So far the cuts have not yet been implemented, but are expected to incur in the very near future.
The electricity cuts comes amid failed attempts of unity talks between the Fatah-led PA government and the Hamas-led Gazan government. While the Palestinian people feel united across Gaza and the West Bank, the divisions between the two rival political parties are about to make life for the 2 million people in Gaza even more desperate.
“Everyone is feeling bad here, and expecting more bad to come with the current political situation going on now. It’s a very hard situation,” Majda told Mondoweiss. “It is already hard and it will soon become much worse. I am thinking to try and buy solar panels to store the electricity because we can’t live without it. We need electricity for our daily life. My daughter goes to college and she needs to use the computer to make reports. We barely have enough time with power to charge our phones as it is.”
While Majda hopes to try and get solar panels, she said that as the cuts get worse, demand for such technology will go up, hiking prices and making solar panels harder to find, since the panels must be shipped through the blockaded borders.
In addition to the small scale effects of the power cuts, Gaza is already suffering from lack of power for its water and sewage systems, which are paralyzed without electricity, and result in raw sewage being dumped straight into the Mediterranean coast.
Last month, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, warned that the cuts would end up “plunging [Gaza’s] population into a spiral of a humanitarian catastrophe.”
“The power plant, that supplies 30 percent of Gaza’s electricity, stopped functioning on 16 April, due to a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas over taxation on fuel,” Mladenov said in a statement. “The lines supplying power from Egypt into Gaza are often down for technical reasons. This leaves Israeli power lines, which provide some 60 percent of Gaza’s electricity, as the only reliable energy source. Meanwhile the Palestinian Government has decided to cap its purchase of electricity from Israel for Gaza.”
Israeli rights group B’Tselem on Tuesday decried the power cuts, and called on Israel not to “shirk” its responsibilities in the Strip.
“Despite [the] intolerable reality [in Gaza], the Israeli cabinet has decided to accept the Palestinian Authority’s cruel plan to further reduce the power supply to Gaza. Should the Israeli decision be implemented, the situation in Gaza will deteriorate even further, making the area virtually unlivable,” the group said.
“This is not some sort of natural disaster. Had that been the case, Israel would have likely sent in a humanitarian aid mission. Instead, the reality in Gaza is the result of Israel’s handiwork, achieved by its decade-long implementation of a brutal policy. Israel can, and must, change this reality.”
As rights groups are predicting catastrophe the people of Gaza are worried, but Majda said they are also hopeful.
“It’s going to be scary situation, but here people when people talk about it they are hopeful,” she said. “We say God willing things will get better — there’s nothing else we can do about it.”