With a scorching heat wave blanketing the Middle East, residents of the Gaza Strip are feeling the severity of the electricity crisis that has been plaguing the coastal enclave with only two to six hours of electricity each day.
For the second time in two weeks, temperatures have been reaching as high as 100 degrees and lingering in the 80s at night. With no electricity for fans or air conditioners, the Palestinians of Gaza are the suffering pawns in their own political parties’ power plays.
The crisis began after the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority decided to reduce its funding of Israeli-supplied electricity to Gaza by 35 percent, in an effort to force its rival party Hamas to cede control of the strip. The PA claims it was forced to do so since Hamas has failed to reimburse the PA for its electricity. The PA owes Israel 2 billion shekels ($560 million) for the electricity.
Two million men, women and children live in this strip of land 30 miles long and 7 miles wide. Electricity isn’t their sole problem. A mere 5 percent of the water is safe to drink and most isn’t even fit for bathing.
A United Nations official stationed in Jerusalem warned that the current crisis has exacerbated an already untenable situation in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Since the electricity reduction in Gaza, the local sewage system has shut down, dumping 100,000 tons of unprocessed waste water into the Mediterranean every day while some residents have no drinking water and prices for vegetables have gone up by 50 percent, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said.
“The effects of the crisis are devastating,” he said. “And all of this, at the end of the day, will come back to Israel’s doorstep.”
While not blaming Israel entirely, Mladenov warned that this humanitarian crisis could lead to another round of violence with Israel.
Unrelated to the current crisis, Israelis and Palestinians this week announced the opening of the first-ever Palestinian-owned electricity infrastructure. Israel will continue to supply megawatts to new station, but this is the first time the Palestinians will be able to control the distribution of the electricity. Three more Palestinian stations are scheduled to be built.
The station, built by the Israel Electric Corporation, is owned by the Palestinian Electric Authority and the PA. The IEC trained Palestinians to work, maintain and fix the site.
Knesset member Yuval Steinitz said the deal will “be a model” for how Israel and the PA can work to improve the Palestinian’s water supply and treatment.
Palestinians are also building their own power producing plant in Jenin, scheduled to go online in 2019, which will produce 400-450 megawatts, currently 50 percent of the PA’s electricity needs.
Yael Nevo, lawyer for the IEC, said it was a “great experience” working with the Palestinian side.
“The negotiations were in very good spirits. Each side defended its interests while understanding the other side’s concerns, and finding creative contractual solutions,” she told the Times of Israel.
PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah described the project as “pivotal to enhance our independence so we can meet the growing needs of our people in the electricity sector.” He did not mention the current woes in Gaza.