Occupation comes in many forms. Alongside the brutality like that witnessed in Gaza during the summer of 2014 are less overstated but similarly debilitating methods by which Israel exerts control over the occupied territories. Occupation is a system of total control. Even as it is underwritten by shows of violent force, it has an administrative foundation with dire ramifications for people living under it. One element of the Zionist project is the restriction of resources.
During Israel’s most recent military campaigns in Gaza, a common refrain emerging from its defenders was that Palestinians were somehow deficient in tending the infrastructure and economy of the area, that Israel should be praised for supplying Gaza with electricity, and that without obedience, Gaza’s power should be cut. This argument implicates the obligations of Israel as occupying power under International law, but it is also heavily guided by myths about the occupation.
It is true that some electric power reaches Gaza through the state-owned Israel Electric Corporation. Other electricity comes via Egypt, and other still from the sole power plant in Gaza, the Gaza Power Generating Co.. Before we hand out ribbons for diplomacy and cooperation, however, it is also true that Israel has bombed the plant in Gaza not once but twice since that it was built in 2002. The first assault, in 2006, came as part of Operation Summer Rains, while the second, on July 29, 2014, was part of Israel’s summer of bombardment of the region.
When it is not being bombed, the plant, as explained in Sharon Weinberger’s 2009 IEEE profile, operates in a state of chronic undercapacity, with its Israeli-rationed diesel fuel supply available at less than half the quantity needed to fully power the installation. And repairing plant machinery, whether routine maintenance or parts damaged by Israeli bombs, requires Israeli administrative approval of each individual repair. The approval is not always forthcoming. In 2009, plant manager Rafiq Maliha said the halted nature of resupply was unworkable, noting “if you are running a power plant, you need a continuous flow of spare parts and consumables.”
Another myth that provides the foundation for placing blame at the feet of Gazans is one of ignorance or willful blindness—many of those who are critical of Palestinians for, to paraphrase, “building terror tunnels rather than factories” are quite possibly not aware that Gaza is under a siege that eviscerates the territory’s ability to construct. What’s more, Gaza’s industry is under regular assault by the Israeli military. Other basic necessities are restricted as well—United Nations Special Rapporteur Richard Falk noted in 2013 that “up to 40 percent of Gaza’s population receives water only once every few days.” Fuel shortages, he offered, verge on “catastrophe.”
The realities of the siege, then, mean the feigned empathy and unasked-for advice is empty, even if it was honest in the first place. Palestinian industry is leveled with arbitrary inhumanity each time Israeli politicians decide they’d like to teach their prisoners a lesson, and the resources Palestinians in Gaza need to survive are denied with regularity.
Occupation By Permit
Sabotage of Palestinian infrastructure is mirrored elsewhere in the West Bank and Negev Desert by Israel’s selective supply and treatment of construction and energy projects there. Like would be construction initiatives in Gaza, construction in the other occupied territories are also not simply a matter of Palestinians’ deciding to build something and then doing it. Zionist land policy is historically ethnocentric, and for as long as Israel has existed been a stacked deck.
Often, questions of compliance hang for years over issues as basic as whether a village will be allowed to have electric light at nighttime. The Southern West Bank village of Imneizil, for example, has seen its solar power system, important to residents’ safety and quality of life, mired for years in threats of destruction from Israeli authorities. The village does not have access to the Israeli power grid, but its Spanish-funded solar power system was slated for destruction in 2012 because, according to Israeli spokesperson Guy Inbar, it represented “illegal or unco-ordinated (sic) activity”—it apparently did not have the proper permits.
That same year, the European Union denounced Israel’s destruction of aid projects in Area C of the West Bank, activity that is by no means isolated. Phoebe Greenwood, writing in The Guardian, described Imneizil’s particular lack of access to Israel’s power grid as typical for that part of the West Bank.
Documents provided by the Electricity Department of the Israeli Civil Administration, which has responsibility for overseeing electricity matters in the West Bank, assures readers that electricity is treated as “outside the conflict.” When the conflict completely captures domestic Israeli politics, however, and originates in dispossession, it is hard to see how any development could possibly exist independently. Sometimes, the overlaps are surreal.
An example: a planned solar field in the Negev Desert, championed by US-Israeli venture “BrightSource,” says that it aims by 2016 to produce green energy for “40,000 Israeli homes.” In late in 2013, “40,000” and “Negev Desert” found themselves also in the same sentence, then as the number and location of Bedouin Arabs (and Israeli citizens) placed on the table for ethnic cleansing by the Knesset.
When occupation and hostility to Palestinians seem to provide the life force upon which the far-right Israeli governing coalition is animated, any potential separation of resources and Zionism in the West Bank comes with that heavy grain of salt. And when Palestinians in Gaza are chided for their lack of self-improvement, the mirror should be turned squarely back at those supporting the repression. Resources are the archetypal tool of control, and, in character, Israel wields it unforgivingly.