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Why must Gaza wait in the dark?

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When I asked my colleague in Gaza about her biggest dream, her answer made an impression on me: “I dream of what life would be like with 24-hour electricity.” This was the answer of a single, mid-career, western educated, professional woman who lives in the more affluent part of Gaza City. Her response suggests the depth of despair among Palestinians throughout Gaza.

Day-to-day life in Gaza between Israeli attacks is unworthy news for Western mainstream media. As a result, few people are aware that electricity in Gaza is a luxury, with blackouts lasting 16-18 hours—every day. This bitter reality has warped people’s lives for years now, as they must plan their daily activities around the 4-6 hours when they anticipate electricity, even if that means waking up to put laundry in the washing machine in the middle of the night.

Contrary to common belief, the severe undersupply of electricity in Gaza is not new, and not a result of the latest military aggression. Gaza has not had uninterrupted electricity since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. In an attempt to compensate for the Israeli disruption of Gaza’s power supply, the Palestinians established their first power generation plant in 2004. Ever since, Israel has regularly limited the supply of electricity and industrial fuel needed to operate this only power plant in Gaza. Israel’s ability to deny families in Gaza the energy they need is nothing less than collective punishment of Palestinians—punishment whereby an entire community is made to pay for the acts of a few.

Separating Gaza’s electricity supply from the political conflict is a step long overdue. Access to electricity—a basic necessity that much of the world, including Israeli citizens can take for granted—should not be conditional upon outcomes of future negotiations. Continued darkness in Gaza serves no one.

During Israel’s military aggression on Gaza this past summer, Israel again bombed the sole power plant in Gaza. (Israel bombed the same plant on June 28, 2006.)  In a July 29, 2014 article about the latest destruction, the Guardian quoted Amnesty International which stated, “the crippling of the power station amounted to collective punishment of Palestinians.” Amnesty went on to note that, “the strike on the plant will worsen already severe problems with Gaza’s water supply, sewage treatment and power supplies to medical facilities.”

On September 14, 2014, less than 50 days after the Israeli strike on the plant and less than a month after the cessation of fighting, the Middle East Monitor reported that the CEO of the Gaza Electricity Company, Walid Sayel, announced that Gaza’s power plant was ready to work, pending fuel supply. “The Turkish minister of energy,” the item continued, “had said that his country is ready to send a floating 100 megawatt power plant to Gaza after obtaining the necessary permits [from Israel].” As Palestinians in Gaza try to move on, none of the players involved in the latest debacle, foremost among them Israel, is being held accountable.

The barrier is not simply being without fuel for the power plant. The issue is much more complex and calculated. If Turkey were serious about helping, their floating power station would already be in Gaza’s territorial waters even if they had to face down the Israeli navy and risk an international incident to bring electricity to Gaza. If the Palestinian Authority were serious, we would not have to witness the CEO of a Palestinian power plant begging for the funds needed to get the power plant running. And most importantly, Israel has the capacity to provide Gaza with continuous electricity immediately. According to international law, as the occupying power, Israel has sole responsibility to remedy this issue immediately.

To the governments and leaders who just returned to Cairo for another round of ceasefire negotiations with no timeline or end in sight, I challenge them to first focus on this basic and humane step: Give the people of Gaza access to electricity. It would be a basic step in easing the stresses of life in Gaza where loved ones can’t check in with one another when cell phones can’t get charged, email and Skype calls are not predictable, and having back-up generators for hospitals is literally a matter of life and death.

As what was intended to be a five-year peace process crawls into its third decade, an entire generation of Palestinian children in Gaza who were born in the early 1990s are now turning 16, 18, 20 years old. Their generation has never known a time that didn’t require candles to be able to study after dark due to intermittent electricity.

Israel has the capacity to stop power interruptions today. Sympathetic nations have the influence to insist that Israel does this. If international leadership cannot agree that providing electricity to the people of Gaza — a very achievable goal — should be an immediate priority, how can we possibly imagine that the larger political issues can be resolved anytime soon?

A Palestinian girl lights a candle inside her house during a power cut in Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip November 17, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

A Palestinian girl lights a candle inside her house during a power cut in Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip November 17, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

About Sam Bahour

Sam Bahour is a board member with Just Vision, a policy analyst with Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network and a secretariat member of the Palestine Strategy Group. He blogs at Twitter: @SamBahour

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33 Responses

  1. eljay
    October 3, 2014, 9:42 am

    >> Why must Gaza wait in the dark?

    Zio-supremacists will tell you it’s because:
    – (the) Hamas;
    – ISIL / ISIS / Islamic State;
    – Iran;
    – Holocaust; and/or
    – Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as a supremacist “Jewish State”.

    They will not mention (or they will deny) that it has anything at all to do with Israel’s 60+ years, ON-GOING and offensive (i.e., not defensive) campaign of aggression, oppression, theft, colonization, destruction, torture and murder.

    • ivri
      October 4, 2014, 7:25 pm

      If it`s a multiple choice question then I would go primarily for the Hamas option. They played the military option over decades now and history teaches us that this comes with prices. Nobody likes to pay them but as it turns out some will only learn in the hard way. My expectation is that despite the brave talk and the abundant bad intentions in Gaza, enough people there will draw the right conclusions from the recent violent episode, namely if you want normalcy and smooth electricity-supply it is better to avoid too much warring. Abandon the tunnel-vision!

      • a blah chick
        a blah chick
        October 5, 2014, 7:01 am

        Translation: Submit and maybe we’ll think about turning your lights back on.

        There are only 3 things Zionism has ever offered the Palestinians: death; exile; oppression.

      • eljay
        October 5, 2014, 8:59 am

        >> ivri: If it`s a multiple choice question then I would go primarily for the Hamas option.

        A Zio-supremacist blames Hamas and ignores the oppressive, colonialist, expansionist and supremacist “Jewish State’s” 60+ years of (war) crimes. Surprise, surprise…

  2. Kay24
    October 3, 2014, 9:47 am

    Thank you for reminding us about the suffering of these poor people. It also reminds me that we take so much for granted, including electricity and running water. Something these poor people consider a luxury. While their occupiers live comfortably, watching their favorite shows, and enjoying the water, some stolen from them, these victims have gone through immense hardship and have been deprived of basic necessities. Perhaps they should all send the US a Thank You note, for ignoring the crimes of their occupiers, and keeps supporting it.
    This is basically inhumane treatment by evil people.

  3. ckg
    October 3, 2014, 9:51 am

    HRW on Aug 10:

    Damaging or destroying a power plant, even if it also served a military purpose, would be an unlawful disproportionate attack under the laws of war, causing far greater civilian harm than military gain.

    “If there were one attack that could be predicted to endanger the health and well-being of the greatest number of people in Gaza, hitting the territory’s sole electricity plant would be it,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Deliberately attacking the power plant would be a war crime.”

    The laws of war obligate countries responsible for violations to make full reparations for the loss or injury caused. This would involve at a minimum providing materials and assistance to permit the prompt restoration of the power plant to its pre-war capacity.


  4. pabelmont
    October 3, 2014, 9:51 am

    What Israel does to Gaza may qualify as “collective punishment” only if it is, first, “punishment”. It is certainly collective oppression. What if there were no “crime” (no, for instance, occasional rockets or rock throwing)? Would Israel (in that case) lift the siege? How soon? etc.

    This collective oppression is part of Israel’s plan and consistent with its mind-set to “win” against Palestine and, in the mean time, to keep the “West” off its own back.

    BDS is also “collective oppression”, but since it is not violent it cannot (I suppose) be called “punishment”. The world needs more BDS against every Israeli company, institution, government, culture, sport, academe, etc.

    • rightcoaster
      October 6, 2014, 11:36 pm

      Blockade is also not violent, and blockade is also perfectly legal where the parties are legally at war. Hamas is willing to let Fatah do the heavy lifting, as long as Hamas retains their arms and “the resistance”. Gaza will not likely see rebuilding as long as you have Hamas willing to sacrifice the Gazans to the last kid.

  5. Marnie
    October 3, 2014, 10:02 am

    @pabelmont – Amen to that

  6. Kay24
    October 3, 2014, 10:03 am

    Israel breaks and the world must remake:

    Israel has finished “mowing the lawn” for the moment. It has played war games and decimated Gaza, now it will expect the rest of the world to pay for the damages. What an entitled lot.

    “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will ask for $4 billion for reconstruction in Gaza following the recent 50-day war.

    Donor countries are deciding on aid to Gaza on October 12.

    Palestinian officials say more than 60,000 homes and more than 5,000 businesses and factories were destroyed or damaged. The damage assessment and aid request are part of a reconstruction plan the Abbas government has released.

    Meanwhile, in an interview with Haaretz, Israel’s army chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz says it’s in Israel’s interest to enable the reconstruction of Gaza by easing border restrictions it imposed after the Hamas takeover of the territory in 2007.” Haaretz

  7. HarryLaw
    October 3, 2014, 10:14 am

    Israel as usual is trying to put a spoke in the wheel, insisting that all building material which has a dual use i.e, bricks and concrete should be monitored.. “That envisages “constant presence of the UN and daily inspections by a UN international staff member in the concrete mixing factory” as well as video monitoring of premises.
    Equally controversial for Palestinians is likely to be the requirement for homeowners needing building materials to register their ID number, address/locality [and] family status for a database that will be available to Israeli officials, including its intelligence agencies.
    No doubt Abbas will agree to it all. Some UN officials are saying it is putting the onus of the occupation and siege on the International community. Very clever of Israel.

    • Kay24
      October 3, 2014, 10:42 am

      More like devious. It is almost weird that the occupier suspected of many war crimes, still calls the shots.

      • Boomer
        October 3, 2014, 11:19 am

        It’s not “almost weird,” it IS weird. And wrong.

    • rightcoaster
      October 6, 2014, 11:49 pm

      Harry, your reasoning is defective. Concrete is dual-use, vide tunnels. If you are a sensible entity, you restrict the opportunity for your sworn and proven enemy to get access to and control over dual-use materials without control of the actual use. Why do you find that so hard to comprehend? There is an unresolved war between the parties, and until it is resolved in a way that does not allow a Hezbollah on the Gaza and West Bank borders of the successful state of Israel, by the unproven nation-state of “Palestine”, the grass will need mowing again from time to time, and a blockade is required. After all, just look at the neighborhood — no stability except under dictatorship. In the case of Lebanon, a frail confession-based republic the premise of which has fallen apart, there is more demonstration that the ex-Ottomans have not yet figured out modern nationhood. Dictatorship or disintegration. Turkey after 90 years of Ataturk secularism is relapsing into theocracy, and the PKK – AK lull is nearing an end. Why would Palestine not be exactly the same — since they cannot even stay unified under a single government for a few months? Would you entrust your own security and that of your children to the Palestinians?

  8. Horizontal
    October 3, 2014, 11:15 am

    “Continued darkness in Gaza serves no one.”

    I don’t think I need point out the inaccuracy of that statement.

    How long till the world screams, “ENOUGH?”

    • Kay24
      October 3, 2014, 11:48 am

      I am beginning to think not in our lifetime. Not until the US stops the aid, support, and shameless protection. Only then.

      • RobertB
        October 3, 2014, 12:18 pm

        Kay…we all need to be vigilant! We, each one of us, need to be active in spreading the TRUTH about Apartheid Israel injustices, brutal killings, land theft, ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. And the American taxpayer’s billions of $$$ of aid year after year…non-stop!

        We need to spread it to relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates…etc…!

        AIPAC/Israel only fear the American public…the American taxpayers/voters! That is why the zionist controlled MSM devote so much time, efforts, deceptions and propaganda to the American public…to keep them in that state of paralysis…! And far away from the TRUTH.

      • Horizontal
        October 3, 2014, 9:01 pm

        @ Kay24 ~

        Don’t give up. I know it seems dark now, but things have a way of changing seemingly overnight — look at gay rights for an example. Years of silence and oppression, and then, BOOM. It’s a generational thing. Younger people knew of gay people the way their parent’s never did so oppressing them no longer made sense. Younger people also look at what Israel is doing and saying, “WTF?” No amount of AIPAC $$$ can undo that knowledge.

        Martin Luther King famously said, ““The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I believe we’ll all see great changes soon.

      • Kay24
        October 3, 2014, 9:31 pm

        RobertB and Horizontal, I see you guys are optimistic, and it is good to know that there are many like you out there who hope to see that light at the end of the tunnel, and know it may be sooner than later. I will keep hoping too (although there are many times, I feel hopeless).

      • catporn
        October 4, 2014, 6:37 pm

        I understand your feeling pessimistic Kay24, I get it to, its like a pendulum between hope and despair for me, but Robert is right, we’ve just got to keep pushing the message that its wrong. Countless people discover the truth about what’s happening to the Palestinians every day, and gradually the world becomes more and more outraged at the inhumanity.

    • catporn
      October 4, 2014, 6:23 pm

      Hopefully yesterdays announcement by Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, that they will formally recognize the State of Palestine, will have a domino effect and other EU countries will fall in line.
      “A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful co-existence. Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine.”
      It really is enough, time for countries to stand up to Israel and its supporters.

  9. RobertB
    October 3, 2014, 11:30 am

    VIDEO: Remembering Mohammad Durrah

    Friday October 03, 2014 02:42 author by PNN/IMEMC News Report

    14 years ago , 12-year-old Muhammad Durrah was murdered in cold blood by Israeli forces,during the Second Palestinian Intifada, in October of the year 2000.

    Muhammad sheltered behind his father’s armless body, as they were both subjected to live Israeli fire for 45 minutes, related Mr. Jamal Durrah, Mohammad’s father:

    “When the shooting started, I hid behind the cement cylinder and put my son behind me to protect him. I put my arm in front of his body, but the bullets pierced my hand and it went down…

    “The shooting carried on, and my son was injured in the leg. He said ‘they hit me father, but don’t worry, I will hang on until the ambulance arrives. I will hang on.'”

    Mohammad’s brutal death was recorded on cameras, the PNN reports, and contributed in exposing Israel’s brutal crimes against unarmed civilians, and especially children.

  10. RobertB
    October 3, 2014, 11:57 am

    Evidence of Incitement to Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity in Gaza

    Russell Tribunal 2014 – 24/09

    “The Jury reported: ‘The cumulative effect of the long-standing regime of collective punishment in Gaza appears to inflict conditions of life calculated to bring about the incremental destruction of the Palestinians as a group in Gaza.’”

    David Sheen talks incitement for Genocide in Israeli society discourse during Operation Protective edge.

    Posted October 03, 2014

    • annie
      October 3, 2014, 12:23 pm

      thanks for posting about sheen’s excellent presentation robert. i watched it the other night and recommend the video in its entirety.

  11. RobertB
    October 3, 2014, 1:03 pm

    You are welcome…Annie!!!

  12. just
    October 3, 2014, 1:54 pm

    How do people live in 2014 without electricity? Without clean and running water? Without refrigeration for perishables if one can even get access to them? Without peace, security or justice? Without their own land?

    Without anything that we take for granted in 2014?

  13. RobertB
    October 3, 2014, 2:47 pm

    Max Blumenthal – Russell Tribunal 2014 – 24/09

  14. Pixel
    October 4, 2014, 3:59 pm

    I think I think it’s getting lighter!

    Sweden to recognise state of Palestine

    • Horizontal
      October 4, 2014, 10:05 pm

      @ Pixel ~

      And like a jerking knee, the US calls these actions, “premature.” What a complete embarrassment my country is whenever it opens its mouth regarding Israel. We should be chairing war crimes hearings at the UN, instead of shielding them . . .

  15. Kay24
    October 5, 2014, 10:22 am

    Netty being interviewed on Fareed Zakaria. I wish FZ will ask him about the occupation and illegal settlements, no one ever does. It is almost a taboo subject when interviewing the butcher of Telaviv.

  16. MHughes976
    October 5, 2014, 1:05 pm

    The photographs at the head of this article are beautiful and moving despite the horrible situation that they depict.

  17. Noha Tarek
    Noha Tarek
    October 6, 2014, 2:29 am

    I’ really sad to also add that our military authoritarian regime in Egypt is also responsible. Instead of selling (not to mention donating) gas (which is abundant in Egypt) to Palestinians, it’s selling it AGAIN to the Zionist entity!!!

    Even though one of the famous reasons for our waging a revolution (which has obviously failed!!!) against the old-new regime of the military is Mubarak’s infamous selling of down-priced gas to the Zionist entity, which the corrupt judiciary has made him ultimately innocent of, & now they’re doing it again!!!

    And the funny two things are: A few months ago I’ve heard in the news that our regime has decided to also import gas from the Zionist entity!!! (so why sell them gas when we’re gonna buy it again?!) And the other thing is that WE in Egypt now are facing collective punishment for our previous attempt of a revolution by also having electricity cuts by the hands of the government (although of course the situation is not as bad as in Palestine)…

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