A year after Pillar of Defense, it’s all gone dark in Gaza

Despite celebrations for the ‘victory over the Zionists,’ Hamas, and ordinary Gazans, are feeling the crunch of a fuel shortage and price hikes

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinians walk on the side of a street flooded with waste water in Gaza City, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. A Palestinian official said sewage from a treatment plant overflowed onto streets in the Gaza Strip because of a shortage of electricity needed to process the waste. (Photo credit: AP /Adel Hana)
Palestinians walk on the side of a street flooded with waste water in Gaza City, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. A Palestinian official said sewage from a treatment plant overflowed onto streets in the Gaza Strip because of a shortage of electricity needed to process the waste. (Photo credit: AP /Adel Hana)

Operation Pillar of Defense began one year ago, and over the past 48 hours, different groups in Gaza have held large military marches to celebrate the anniversary of “their victory over the Zionist enemy.”

But, putting the celebrations aside for a moment, the Gaza Strip is nothing like before. The operation that began with the assassination of Hamas military leader Ahmad al-Jabari ultimately achieved Israel’s goal – stopping rocket and missile attacks from Gaza – without having to send in Israeli soldiers.

An even greater achievement is the 600-strong Hamas force formed for the sole purpose of preventing missile attacks against Israel. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, remarkably, now consider Hamas something a security asset in so far as that force preserves the stability on the Gaza-Israel border. While it’s true that Hamas continues to arm itself with the latest models of rockets, including those capable of reaching Tel Aviv, and it’s also true that Hamas digs tunnels to be used in case of future escalation, the bottom line is that relative peace and quiet have been maintained in the region.

The question is: How long will it last, especially considering the rapidly deteriorating financial situation in the Gaza Strip and the ongoing shortage of electricity?

Though it may be hard to believe, 1.5 million Palestinians have lived without electricity throughout most of the day in 2013. For the past two weeks, residents of the Gaza Strip have endured a cycle of six hours of electricity followed by a 12-hour power outage. Last Wednesday, the power went out at 6:00 am and was finally restored only late that evening.

This current crisis is not the result of a tighter “Israeli siege” or anything of the sort; it is caused by disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over the price of fuel since the tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt were shut down or destroyed.

Recent Egyptian military activity rendered out of commission hundreds of tunnels that once connected Sinai and Gaza and were used to import one million liters of fuel into Gaza each day. As a result, Hamas has no choice but to purchase fuel from Israel via the Palestinian Authority at prices similar to those found in the Israeli market, namely over seven shekels ($2) per liter of gasoline. That is a major problem for private car owners.

The more acute problem is that fuel is needed to operate the Gaza power plant that generates the majority of the local electricity. The Palestinian Authority purchases a liter of fuel for the power plant for approximately 4 shekels from Israeli gas companies and has tried to sell it to Hamas for almost double, including excise tax.

Hamas has rejected those prices outright and stopped purchasing fuel for its power plant. The dramatic consequence was that the power plant has shut down and the electricity supply has been completely disrupted. The PA refuses to waive the excise tax, a critical part of its own budget. And the residents of Gaza are the ones who suffer.

“The situation is unbearable,” says R, a Gaza resident who spoke to the Times of Israel recently. “There is no electricity at home throughout most of the day. The elevators don’t work. Those who can afford it buy a car battery to turn on the lights in their homes but that’s not enough to operate washing machines, televisions or other appliances. Imagine what it’s like for people in apartment buildings. Some have generators, but they use fuel which costs seven shekels per liter. So they set their elevators to go on for five minutes every hour.”

A., another Gaza resident, lives in an apartment building in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood. He says that his guests plan their visits around the electricity supply. “Some friends called this evening and, instead of asking when to come over, they asked when the power will be on. Otherwise they’ll have to climb up all of the stairs.”

This pressure is not expected to ease up anytime soon. Egypt continues to crack down on Gaza, Hamas and the PA show no signs of reaching a compromise anytime soon, and as the situation becomes increasingly tense, signs of escalation have begun to appear on the horizon. Israel may be willing to sell plenty of fuel through the PA, but there are no buyers in the Gaza Strip.

These power shortages have caused industries in Gaza to partially suspend operations, thus affecting the incomes of most of Gaza’s population. Said E., another Gaza resident, “There is no work. There’s no electricity. If you think the people will take out their frustration on Hamas, you’re wrong. They’ll take it out on Israel.”

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