By Eva Bartlett – Gaza
Gaza is host to a new power outage.
It came the evening of the day when a delegation of 11 European Members of Parliament had visited Gaza’s only power plant, which supplies about 1/3 the electricity used in Gaza (the amount used, not the amount needed. People are making due with regular power cuts, particularly in the northern areas of the Strip).
The plant used to supply 50% of Gaza’s needs before Israel bombed it in June 2006, destroying all 6 of the plant’s large transformers. Since then, ten smaller, temporary transformers have had to function, inadequately, as permanent replacements. With the siege on Gaza, importing new transformers, or even replacements parts, has become impossible.
During the visit, Dr. Rafik Maliha, Project Manager of the plant, warned that a power outage was imminent, as the plant hadn’t received fuel from Israel in 6 days and had no reserves. Israel closed all commercial and humanitarian border crossings on November 5, following a volley of home-made rockets, fired into Israel with no injuries reported. The rockets came as retaliation for the targeted assassination of 7 Palestinians in Gaza late on November 4, a major violation, but not the first, of the truce between Hamas and Israel.
In her recent visit as party to the delegation of European MPs, former Cabinet Minister Clare Short decried the border lock-downs and resulting power cuts and food shortages, as well as the 18-month siege itself, as "an illegal and immoral act of collective punishment imposed on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip for the ‘crime’ of voting in internationally supervised elections for a party not supported by the Western powers".
She echoes what human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and many others, along with aid organizations like the UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) have long-stated on Israel’s siege of Gaza: an act of collective punishment on Gaza’s 1.5 million civilian population.
In January of this year, Ehud Olmert himself deemed the siege collective punishment: “There is no justification for demanding we allow residents of Gaza to live normal lives while shells and rockets are fired from their streets and courtyards at Sderot and other communities in the south,” a Human Rights Watch report recalled.
Aware that I would have no power later to do any writing, I was acutely more aware that hospitals would be at the mercy of their expensive, diesel-powered generators; that water would continue to go un-treated in many areas or, if treated, that it could not be pumped to those needing it; and that many, if not most, Palestinians would be in the dark.
That night I and others attended a candlelight vigil highlighting the electricity outage and its serious repercussions. The vigil was well-publicized. Many are saying that the vigil and the words of European MPs, including the British Lord Ahmed, made the difference.
Yet, although fuel flowed today and power returned, it was for a brief period, resulting in what will be another blackout in a matter of another 30 hours, authorities said earlier Tuesday.
UNRWA worries about more than the implications of no electricity. Supplying 80% of Gaza’s population with food aid, UN authorities warned that unless Karni crossing, designated for foodstuffs, re-opens after the week’s closure, they will have to halt food hand-outs in a matter of 48 hours.
It has been a very interesting, sobering, few days, so far, since arriving with the Free Gaza’s fourth boat, third voyage. I joined powerful people, very down to earth and very, very alarmed at the conditions in Gaza’s health care facilities and with Gaza’s sewage facilities which have already over-flown with waste this year. In March 2007, in Um El-Naser village, near the northern town of Beit Lahia, 5 were drowned, including 2 babies, when earthen dykes of a sewage containment pool burst under the excessive amounts, sewage inundated with heavy rains.
This morning, taking advantage of the briefly-returned power, I took time to do some writing in the morning, aware that in short time it will be impossible again.
-Eva Bartlett is a Canadian human rights advocate and freelancer who spent eight months in 2007 living in West Bank communities and four months in Cairo and at the Rafah crossing. She is currently based in Gaza, after the third successful voyage of the Free Gaza movement to break the siege on Gaza. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.