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
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.
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.