Humanitarian crisis looms as Israel cuts Gaza’s electricity

The decision comes less than a week after Israel acceded to Mahmoud Abbas’ demand to cut Gaza’s power supply.

A Palestinian family eats dinner by candlelight at their makeshift home in the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, during a power outage on June 12, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)
A Palestinian family eats dinner by candlelight at their makeshift home in the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, during a power outage on June 12, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

The Israeli government announced Monday morning that it had begun cutting the electricity to the Gaza Strip, fulfilling a request by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Palestinian Authority informed Israel in April that it would cease paying for electricity supplies to the Strip. Israel supplies the coastal enclave with about 30 percent of its electricity at a cost of around 40 million shekels per month, which it deducts from the taxes of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas hopes that the cuts would place enough pressure on Hamas, his ideological rivals who rule the Strip, to relinquish control.

The move by the PA, which also cut government salaries in Gaza and approved a massive reduction in medical aid supplied there, coincides with the 10-year anniversary of Hamas’ takeover of the Strip.

The cuts would leave Gaza with around three hours of electricity a day. Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesperson for Hamas, which rules Gaza said in a statement that Israel would “bear responsibility for the consequences of the reduction.”

According to Gisha, an Israeli NGO that uses legal assistance and public advocacy to protect freedom of movement for Palestinians, Israel has for years been selling 120 megawatts to Gaza — supplied through ten power lines — with each line carrying 12 megawatts. On Monday morning, Israel cut supply on two lines from 12 to eight megawatts. Meanwhile, Israel continues to severely limit entrance of generators and spare parts needed for their repair to Gaza, as well as entrance of transformers and equipment.

Gaza’s sole power plant stopped operating in late April, and ever since the Strip has relied almost entirely on electricity imported from Israel. Without electricity, Palestinians have resorted to flashlights and candles as sources of light in the evening. Others have purchased costly subscriptions to communal generators.

Palestinian men seen in front of a fire raging at the Gaza’s main power plant following an overnight Israeli airstrike, south of Gaza City, July 29, 2014. (Emad Nassar/Flash90)
Palestinian men seen in front of a fire raging at the Gaza’s main power plant following an overnight Israeli airstrike, south of Gaza City, July 29, 2014. (Emad Nassar/Flash90)

Last Wednesday, a coalition of 16 civil society organizations sent an urgent letter to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, emphasizing the unlawfulness of the cabinet’s decision under both Israeli and international law. The attorney general has yet to respond, and it is unknown whether there will be further reductions to the electricity supply.

According to Gisha, the consequences of a reduction are likely to be devastating:

Already before these current cuts, residents of Gaza received four hours of supply followed by 12 hours of blackouts; water desalination and sewage treatment facilities are not operational; some 100 million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage are being dumped mostly at sea daily; generators are over-extended; entire hospital wards are shut down during blackouts, and people who rely on life-saving equipment are at risk.