Catastrophe Looms In Gaza


Israel will reduce its electricity supply to the occupied Gaza Strip by 40 percent, turning an already dire situation into a catastrophe.

Israel says the further cutback, approved by the Israeli cabinet on Sunday night, is based on a request by the Palestinian Authority.

Before the cut, Gaza’s population of two million has received only four hours of electricity a day, with hospitals, desalination and sewage treatment plants severely imperiled or made inoperative.

Already, medical services, including critical surgeries, have been sharply reduced due to the ongoing power crisis.

Hospital backup generators are on the brink of failure, Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that monitors the blockade of Gaza, warned on Monday.

Gisha wrote an urgent letter to Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday, warning that a further reduction in electricity “is a red line that must not be crossed.”

Palestinians in Gaza are now being told to prepare for the worst. The cut will reportedly reduce the daily average of electricity by another 45 minutes.

Hamas called the decision “catastrophic” and “dangerous,” warning it would “hasten the deterioration and explosion of the situation in the Strip.”

“The parties who carry the responsibility for the consequences of this decision are the besieging Israeli enemy and the head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas for his immoral and irresponsible role with the occupation,” the group, which governs the interior of the territory, added.

Israel’s obligation

An Israeli official told the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz that the cabinet accepted the Israeli army’s “recommendation against leniency toward Hamas and to act in accordance with” Abbas’ request.

The term “leniency toward Hamas” indicates that Israeli officials make no distinction between Gaza’s entire civilian population on the one hand, and a political grouping Israel opposes, on the other. It indicates that Israel is imposing collective punishment on the civilian population to achieve political goals.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security minister, told army radio the cut was a “decision” by Abbas. “Israelis paying Gaza’s electricity bill is an impossible situation,” Erdan added.

Israel’s military, security and intelligence officials are backing the move, even with the understanding of its catastrophic humanitarian consequences and that it could result in military escalation.

But hiding behind Abbas does not exonerate Israel, the occupying power in Gaza, of its responsibilities. The Fourth Geneva Convention, governing military occupation, requires the occupier to use all means at its disposal to ensure adequate medical services, public health and other basic necessities of life.

“Israel is not just a service provider, responding neutrally to a client’s request,” Gisha stated. “Given its extensive control over life in the Strip, Israel is responsible for enabling normal life for its residents.”

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said the move to further cut electricity threatens the lives of the population in Gaza. It urged Israel “in its capacity as an occupying power according to the international humanitarian law, to fulfill [its] obligations towards the Gaza Strip population and guarantee civilians’ access to the necessary basic services.”

Cruel power play

At the end of May, the Palestinian Authority asked Israel to reduce the amount of electricity it supplies to Gaza, saying it would start paying only 60 percent of Gaza’s monthly electricity bill from Israel.

Palestinian Authority spokesperson Tareq Rashmawi defended the move, saying Hamas had failed to reimburse the PA for electricity. Rashmawi also demanded that Hamas agree to hold parliamentary and presidential elections – again indicating a political motive in inflicting suffering on the population.

Last month, Gaza’s power authority said that it had complied with all of the PA’s conditions to end the electricity crisis, including conducting more rigorous collections of electricity bills within the impoverished Gaza Strip.

Last month, the Palestinian Authority stopped transferring funds to support Gaza’s health system, denying at least 240 infants and hundreds of people cancer and other critical treatments, according to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

The PA also stopped providing medicine and baby formula to hospitals in Gaza, a move health officials in Gaza denounced as politically motivated.

The Palestinian Authority’s mounting pressure is seen as an attempt to wrest control over Gaza from Hamas.

This week, Harvard scholar Sara Roy wrote in the London Review of Books that “if Abbas wanted to win the support of Gaza’s people all he would have to do is pay the civil servants their salaries.”

Roy, who has written about Gaza for years, describes harrowing and accelerating levels of social distress and breakdown in the territory as a consequence of the decade-long blockade imposed by Israel with the support of Egypt and the PA.

In addition to cutting electricity and medicine supplies, Abbas has also stopped paying civil servants in Gaza who worked for the PA before Hamas took control in 2007, after it won parliamentary elections the year before.

Even though these employees stopped working, Abbas had been paying their salaries. In April, the PA cut their payments by 30 to 70 percent.

In recent weeks, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Health Organization and the UN humanitarian coordination agency OCHA have all warned of the disastrous consequences of reducing Gaza’s already desperately inadequate electricity supply.

But as Gaza is left to suffer in the dark, there has been virtually no international attention to the worsening crisis.

Hamas authorities in Gaza have relied on aid from Qatar, which has financed emergency fuel supplies for Gaza’s sole power plant, to mitigate the worst effects of the crisis. That supply ran out in April.

Qatar is now facing pressure from Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to cut all assistance to Hamas.

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.

Originally published in Electronic Intifada


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