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Struggling with Gaza power

As darkness descends on more and more parts of Gaza, and temperatures soar, another kind of darkness is creating havoc with people’s equilibrium

Strange noises have become familiar to the population. Walk the unpaved Gaza streets and roads, and all you will hear are the buzzing, whirring sounds of power engines mixed with the smell of smuggled Egyptian fuel. Almost one in five houses owns a power engine to compensate for the continuous lapses in power which have afflicted us for the last four years. Like the politicians, it is impossible for the normal population ever to be calm: there are nothing but problems - from water to power to food to medicine…

The power crises, this summer, have got under our skin. Angry people can readily be picked out on the streets of Gaza. They desperately need a change: but no change is in sight.

Gaza’s population of more than 1.7 million is served by three main energy sources – all old and in need of constant mending and maintenance: the first from Egypt, second from Israel and third from Gaza’s own power plant. In 2006, Israel destroyed the sole power plant in the centre of the Gaza Strip totally disrupting the supply so that hundreds of thousands of people lived in darkness for months until a patched-up repair of some kind was secured.  That was the first year that Egypt provided Gaza with power. Meanwhile, the power coming from Israel still covers some parts of Gaza city and the north.

The knock-on effects of the uncertain supply, of course, are huge. In the current heat - record temperatures have just hit 42 degrees - perhaps it’s not surprising that I found myself heading for the Demyati company in Gaza  - a large , 35-year old business distributing tons of frozen foods: fish, meat and vegetables, to talk to its director, Ismail Demyati.-

Demyati company

He too, is cross:

"We are a very big company that supply hundreds of small shops and companies with our products. Our distribution reaches every market in Gaza and nearly every shop for food. However, the power cuts are affecting our performance as well as changing the habits of those who buy our products. Many of the food shops refrain from buying our products, due to lack of power. Many send back what they have bought, because as summer takes over, they know these goods will spoil and quickly expire."-

Alternative power engines at Demyati company

Demyati’s company imports foodstuff from Europe, China, South America, Egypt and Israel.  They too are affected by the imposed siege as no regular access of their products can get into the Gaza Strip. To combat this problem, the company operates its own giant power engine. But on normal days, Gaza’s power cuts last for at least four hours:  and in the last month, this has extended to between eight and ten hours a day. From June 25 onwards for some reason, power cuts have exceeded 20 hours, and sometimes they have lasted for 24 hours. Many areas in Gaza at the moment are plunged into darkness.-

Spoiled due to power

Where I live, we have been without power for the past 48 hours. I use the power generator very sparingly, to write this.

Secondary school and university students are taking their final exams at the moment. Inevitably people who are trying to study lose focus. You can come across angry students like Nedal Sakani, who I met in a small shop in Gaza city:

"Our life is repulsive. Haven’t we had enough already with the siege, enough with the war, enough fear and restlessness.  We can't even study. We are supposed to study in the nighttime but it's always dark. We are supposed to study in the daytime, but while the sun’s constantly burning – there is no power. And all you can think of is the sound of your neighbours’ power generators. it's crazy."-

Nedal Sakani - the angry student

The owner of the shop, Muhammad Bakeer, gave me what has become a familiar greeting, " I want to go abroad. Will you help me? I'm tired of Gaza.”  As usual I didn't reply: there is nothing to say. Bakeer has had to decrease the number of his goods steadily as the power cuts have kicked in:

"I no longer supply milk, yoghurt or ice cream, nor frozen foodstuffs. I have had 7500 ($1973)NIS losses. I blame Hamas for this problem. They spend their time trying to gain funds from abroad. They should help us solve this problem. They are the government, not us. I am owed $10,000 by my customers. They have no money to pay. That’s why I want to take my small family and leave Gaza now."-

Bakeer - this shop owner

In fact, the reasons behind our latest power cuts are lost in the ether somewhere between Fateh and Hamas. The Hamas government in Gaza points out that the European Union is funding Gaza’s power plant with industrial fuel. So, according to our Hamas Government, it is the Fateh Government in the West Bank, headed by Salam Fayyad, that has full responsibility for the power supply. They say that since the start of this year, Fayyad's people have asked the EU to transfer money directly into their accounts so that they may purchase industrial fuel to send to Gaza. The EU, they say, have agreed to this plan and the money duly began to go directly to the West Bank Government. Hamas says that Fayyad's government is trying to turn Gazans against their own leaders. Fayyad's people, for their part, point out that they have nothing to do with this crisis. They allege that Hamas is responsible for the power cuts. They insist that Hamas should collect money from the people of Gaza, and then pay it to the power company which is owned by the West Bank Government. Indeed, the story is so mixed, with neither of the rival factions giving us a definitive answer – and meanwhile, nothing happens except deadlock and dead ends.

Today, Hamas is mobilising its supporters to go onto the streets in protest at the measures that they say, have been adopted by Fayyad's government.  Meanwhile, the power problem is growing.  The Gaza municipality has just announced that power failures have started to hit services like sewage and drinking water networks. If the crisis continues, some areas will flood with sewage water and fresh drinking water will be contaminated.

Of course, we ordinary inhabitants are the losers.  The more we dig for the truth in Gaza, the deeper the pit we expose: the blacker the future for Gaza.-

A worker points his fingers at the spoiled goods

About the author

Sameh A. Habeeb is a photojournalist and founder of The Palestine Telegraph Newspaper, and a peace activist who has taken workshops on the Palestine-Israel conflict to Britain, Italy, Holland and France. Sameh has reported on the last three years of siege and the recent war in Gaza on a freelance basis for BBC, CNN, CBC, ABC, Democracy Now, Netwerk T.V. and other news outlets. He also blogs at www.gazatoday.blogspot.com


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