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‘If we ever get 24 straight hours of electricity, it'll be a culture shock’

With the electricity crisis far from being over, Gaza resident Ghada Al-Haddad recalls that the dire situation in the Strip is not a temporary exigency, but rather a culmination of a persistent reality that has developed over a decade of closure.

By Ghada Al-Haddad

Palestinians warm themselves around a fire in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 15, 2014, (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinians warm themselves around a fire in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 15, 2014, (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

To children born after 2006 in the Gaza Strip, stories about the days when electricity was available all day long sound like fairytales, fantasies that can scarcely be believed. Born into a reality structured by an unreliable power distribution schedule, the inconsistent supply of electricity for domestic use has often been insufficient for children to watch an episode of their favorite TV show in its entirety. Nine-year-old Misk Said keeps asking her parents in bewilderment, “is it true that there was once a whole day without a single power cut?”

“Going through a full day, or night, or both, without power isn’t new to us; it has become part of our daily routines for upwards of a decade,” says Misk’s father, Mohammed Said, solemnly, as we trudge through the darkness of Al Shati Camp, to the west of Gaza City. The only sources of light in the narrow allies are the dim rays beaming through the windows of the closely-packed houses, faded from the excessive use of generators, used to power them when the power grid is off. “If we get 24 hours of electricity, it’ll be like total culture shock,” added Said.

From the very beginning of the closure in 2007, and even before that, people of the coastal enclave were confronted with unpredictable power cuts at various hours, but managed to get by. Then the adversity they face started to intensify; the electricity cuts grew more frequent, and far longer than before. The following year, Gaza’s residents were familiarized with what it means to live life dictated by an electricity schedule. The schedule allowed for two eight-hour slots of electricity supplied each day. Depending on changing circumstances, the intervals of uninterrupted power supply are sometimes reduced to six hours, four, even two, and at times, none at all.

Residents of Gaza pray never to reach the point at which the power grid cannot support the eight-hour supply schedule, which inevitably causes all aspects of life to grind to a halt. The eight-hour-schedule has become the peak of their expectations, regardless of its unsteady outages. Now the thought of having entire days of undisturbed electricity seems like nothing short of a luxury.

Palestinian children fill jerrycans with drinking water in the Rafah Refugee Camp in the southern Gaza Strip, June 11, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinian children fill jerrycans with drinking water in the Rafah Refugee Camp in the southern Gaza Strip, June 11, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Since April, power supply has been reduced, sometimes to a mere three or four hours a day. There is no solution to the current crisis in sight, but even if such a solution is reached, it will mean, at best, going back to cycles of eight hours on, eight hours off. Even that seems unlikely at this point. “For now, all I want is the eight-hour electricity schedule,” says Said’s wife, Khitam.

The second the electricity comes on, Gaza’s men and women are jolted into urgent action, running to do laundry, bake bread, pump water into their tanks for domestic use, iron clothes, and charge laptops, cellphones, and other electrical appliances. “I feel very relieved when I finish all of the tasks before the electricity turns off again,” Khitam Said says.

The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip criticize and upbraid each other for the scarcity of electricity. Six months ago, as the distress caused by the chronic electricity deficit loomed high over Gaza, people took to the streets in unprecedented numbers to demonstrate against the unbearable situation, chanting “We need electricity!” The question remains: Which of the responsible parties were they appealing to? Was it Hamas, the de-facto government who has controlled the territory since 2007; Fatah, who no longer has any political power in the Strip; the Israeli authorities, responsible for the ten-year blockade over the Strip, or; the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company, with its poor conduct in collecting the unreasonably high fees from subscribers?

The profusion of contributing factors, alongside the ever-dwindling supply of power to Gaza, has led to desensitization among residents of the Strip. This summer, as the situation deteriorates even further, it seems that people are too exhausted even to protest, or perhaps, they have abandoned hope.

“We’re so used to the electricity situation in Gaza that we’ve moved beyond anger to despair,” says Said.

Ghada Al Haddad, 22 is a freelance journalist based in Gaza, and a graduate of English language & literature from the Islamic university of Gaza. She wrote this report for Gisha.

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    1. Thalaam

      I bet they miss the days before the Palestinians decided that their strategy was to send people strapped with bombs to blow up Israelis in restaurants and on buses.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      Strange.. Two of our Druze brothers, the policemen who lost their life on the Temple Mount after an Arab terrorist attack have been buried yesterday. They lost their life to protect the People of Israel. You do not even write a line in their memory. Your only concern: there are problems of electricity in Gaza. Disgusting!

      Reply to Comment
    3. i_like_ike52

      Really odd. When the evil Israeli occupation was in force, there was electricity. Today, living as free people under their own HAMAS regime, ruled by their own people, there isn’t electricity. Wonder if anyone is prepared to draw some conclusions about the HAMAS regime?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Great thinkers have written myriad great complex works on the problem of evil. And the many kinds of evil in its many contexts. And you want us to take seriously a deliberate attempt to be simple minded? Oh.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          Yeah. Here is a simple-minded question. Why can’t the Palestinians get their act together and run a unified, democratic autonomous regime uniting both Gaza and the West Bank? Please don’t give us the excuse that it is Israel’s fault. As you well know, Islam is a religion of peace and all Arabs are brothers so there is NO WAY Jews could force Palestinians to fight each other. Right?

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Part of the reason is that Israeli government policy over decades has been designed to weaken Palestinian society as much as possible, deny them political power, humiliate and kill or imprison any emerging Palestinian leaders who threaten to show competence, keep them impoverished, strangle economic growth and encourage corruption, and encourage emigration. Israel created Hamas as a divide and conquer strategy. And when Hamas won a fair democratic election the joint Israeli/US response was to to overthrow the Hamas-led government after it had legitimately gained power. And since then Israel has carefully kept Hamas on a controlled slow boil, designed to keep Gaza as dysfunctional as possible. On purpose.

            And as Jeremy Hammond clarifies, in an article I highly recommend for all the other lies (by Bret Stephens) it debunks:

            “To punish the civilian population of Gaza for having voted the wrong way, Israel then implemented a siege of the territory, severely restricting the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza.
            The purpose of Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza was summed up by Sharon’s senior advisor Dov Weissglass thus: “It’s like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die.”
            The US government was well aware of Israel’s intent to collectively punish the civilian population of Gaza. A cable from the US embassy in Tel Aviv to senior Bush administration officials including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice relayed that “Israeli officials have confirmed to Embassy officials on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis”—with “humanitarian crisis” being used euphemistically to mean the point at which Gazans would begin to drop dead from outright starvation.”

            The Israeli leadership detests above all having to sit down and genuinely negotiate. Israel loves Hamas. It reserves its true animosity for Palestinian peace seekers. Israel’s caged lab rat, Hamas, at a carefully Israeli-controlled intensity of not too much, not too little, supplies a perfect excuse for forever avoiding real good-faith negotiations. The truth is that Israel wants Palestinians to remain divided so that it can continue to gain ever more territory and otherwise do as it likes.

            Reply to Comment