Kim Bullimore: As the Lights Go Out in Gaza

By Kim Bullimore
Special to

Even the dead cannot rest in peace in Gaza.  As the world sits by and does nothing, Gaza enters its 85th day under complete siege since Israel began "phase I" of its illegal collective punishment of the people of Gaza on October 28, 2007.  Not only have almost a million people been plunged into complete darkness as a result of fuel reserves disappearing, food and other basic necessities have become scarce, as have medical supplies and the death toll continues to rise. Last Tuesday (15/01) another 19 Palestinians were killed by Israeli occupation forces in less then 3 hours, their death bringing the total killed in the Gaza to 113 in the 48 days since the Annapolis peace conference on November 28 (with 52 killed in the first 15 days of the new year) [1].  But still for those who died, there is no peace.  

On Saturday (19/01), Israel’s leading Hebrew newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth reported on its online news site, YNet, that Palestinian health officials in the Gaza are reporting, as a result of the siege and growing death toll, there is a shortage of burial shrouds and that cement for burial tombs is scare [2]. What there is available, is only available at exorbitant prices on the black market and according to YNet, the dead are being buried, draped in flags and bed sheets. 

And while the dead can find no peace, the 1.5 million living in the most densely populated region in the world are condemned to suffer. One million men, women and children (around 80% of the civilian population in the Gaza) continue to barely survive with the help of food aid from UN agencies.   Israel, however, has sealed off all entrances to the Gaza – no food, medicine or humanitarian supplies have been able to enter Gaza without Israeli say so.  On Friday, January 18, Israel prevented UN humanitarian aid (including food and medical supplies) from entering the Gaza, stating that the only humanitarian aid allowed to enter will be on a case-to-case basis with the explicit and personal approval of Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak [3]. 

And while nothing can enter the Gaza, no one can leave.  Since September last year, almost 75 people – men, women, children and babies, all terminally ill and/or in dire need of medical treatment – have died at the Gazan borders denied entry to Egypt, Jordan, Israel and/or the West Bank by the Israeli secret police.  Israeli based human rights group, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) in mid January told Ramallah- based RAMFM radio, that the Shabak (Israeli secret police) have been using "medical blackmail" against terminally sick Palestinians.  According to PHR coordinator for projects in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Miri Weingarten, the Shabak have called patients to underground rooms at Erez Crossing and told them to either become collaborators and provide them with information on other Palestinians or be denied travel permits.  Weingarten told RAMFM that this "form of medical blackmail is to be condemned.  In fact, we believe it is torture to deliberately withhold medical care for non-medical reasons". Weingarten went on to say that as a result the Shabak’s refusal to allow Palestinian patients to receive medical treatment and the refusal of Israeli courts to address the situation that "one can only compare this to Nazi practices in the concentration camps during World War II" [4].

The situation for Gazans worsened further on Sunday as the only power plant in the Gaza, which the Israeli military had previously bombed in 2006, was forced to shut down due to a shortage of fuel. According to the General Director of the plant, more than 800,000 Palestinians living in the Gaza are now in darkness.   The closure of the plant has not only affected the electricity supply but also the water supply and the disposal of sewage, as fuel and power is needed to pump and filter drinking water and to run sewage treatment plants. The Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility announced on January 20 that if the fuel supply did not resume by the following Tuesday (22/01) that all sewage treatment plants and the 130 water wells operated by the Utility would cease to function throughout the Gaza Strip. Currently, less then 37 water supply pumps are running in the Gaza and 600,000 residents (40% of the population) is currently without running, drinkable water.  According to Oxfam, if the Gaza sewage and sanitation system closes down, the population is in danger of being exposed to water borne diseases [5]

As the cold winter nights wear on, Palestinians in the Gaza must also now survive without heating and with limited fuel reserves to cook and prepare food.   Stores whose shelves are increasing empty, now cannot even open due to the fact they have no electricity, bakeries have had to close unable to bake bread due to shortage of flour and electricity.  Businesses, across all industries, have been forced to close due to the shortage of goods, products and now electricity.  As a result, unemployment is spiraling out of control. With the ongoing siege and closure of the plant, the entire infrastructure of the Gaza Strip has come crashing down. 

As the siege deepens, hospitals in Gaza are barely managing to function.  For patients with life threatening illnesses, whether they live or die, now rests not in the hands of the skilled doctors who care for them but on whether or not the hospitals generators can produce enough electricity to survive the blackouts.   The generators, however, are designed for emergency use only, not for everyday continuous use and electricity is needed for everything – to run the kidney dialysis machines, to run the incubators in the infant care ward in order to save the lives of tiny babies and to run the operating theatres to carry out life saving surgery.

Under international law (article 33 of the 4th Geneva Convention which Israel is a signatory too), collective punishment against a civilian population such as this is illegal but Israel it seems has been written a blank cheque by international community and allowed to carry out heinous war crimes with impunity.    In September 2007, John Dugard, the UN Special Rappoteur for the human rights in the OPT and one of the lone voices in the UN refusing to fall into wishy washy servitude to Israel and the USA, noted that the Palestinian people, particularly those in Gaza, were being punished for having democratically elected a regime unacceptable to Israel, the US and EU.  Dugard, a South African human rights lawyer and activist who campaigned against his own country’s former Apartheid regime, noted that for the first time ever, an occupied people were being subject to sanctions [6] 

Even as the so-called "leader of the free world" arrived on Israel’s doorstep in order to supposedly facilitate "peace" between the Palestinians and Israelis, the Israeli siege deepened as "phase II" kicked in and Israeli war planes and gunships continued to bombard the Gaza.  Even as Bush made distasteful and sickening jokes about the occupation as he entered into the Occupied West Bank to visit the quisling, Abbas, in Ramallah, Israel took the lives of dozens more Palestinians.
As the Israeli government tightens its noose on the Gaza, Abbas and his unelected Prime Minister, Salaam Fayyad, continue to attend tea parties hosted by Olmert and his cronies, more interested in maintaining power and retaining their "30 pieces of silver" (US $7.4 million) thrown their way at the Paris Donors Conference on December 17, then defending the lives of their people. Unable to accept political defeat at the 2006 elections, Abbas and the corrupt inner circle that runs Fatah has sought to overturn the democratic will of the Palestinian people by undermining and ousting the democratically elected Hamas.  Declaring a state of emergency in June 2007, Abbas and his corrupt inner circle began to flaunt their open collaboration with the Israeli occupiers to the entire world.  Now as the Gaza crisis deepens, their betrayal of the Palestinian people is complete.  Not only are they now openly collaborating with the Israeli occupiers and their security forces (and the US) to destroy their political rivals and the Palestinian resistance, they have now completely abandoned the citizens of Gaza.

However, with every step Fatah, Abbas and Fayyad take towards collaboration, the Palestinian people take a step away. On Tuesday (21/01), Palestinian media began reporting that crowds of Palestinians including lawmakers, clerics, scholars and medical patients in ambulances began an open-ended sit the previous day in at the Rafah border, located between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, in the hope to put pressure on both the Abbas based Ramallah government and the Egyptian government lead by Hosni Murburak.  According to Maan News, the protesters were calling for the border to be opened, for Egypt to give aid to the Palestinians and for Abbas to end any further negotiations with Israel until the siege is lifted. Today, hundreds of Palestinian women joined the sit-in, storming and breaking through the Rafah border demanding an end to the siege. The women were beaten by Egyptian riot police, who used water cannon, dogs and clubs against the women. Earlier in the week, school children and youth also protested at the border demanding a lifting of the siege.

In the Occupied West Bank, Palestinians have also began to organize protests in solidarity with their brethren in the Gaza, with protests either taking place or scheduled to take place in Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah and East Jerusalem.  Brutalised by Abbas’ Fatah controlled PA security forces for holding anti-Annapolis rallies in November last year and for staging anti-Bush rallies earlier this month, the Palestinian people continue to defy Abbas and the unelected Fayyad PA.  On January 26, Israeli anti-occupation activists will also stage a humanitarian convoy to the Gaza border in order to attempt to break the siege and deliver supplies to the abandoned in Gaza.  When they reach the border, Palestinians in Gaza will also amass at the border to also call for the blockade to be lifted. As the UN, the EU and the Bush offer nothing but meaningless words, internationally protests have also started to be organized in Italy, France, the United States, Australia and elsewhere.  

As Israeli continues to wage war, while talking fake peace, it time for all of us to take a stand in solidarity with the abandoned in Gaza, for not only an end to the siege but also for an immediate and unconditional end to the Israeli occupation of both the Gaza and West Bank.  Only when this happens can there be any talk of real peace.

-Kim Bullimore has been working and living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for the past 8 months.  She has a blog and is a regular contributor on Palestine-Israel issues to the Australian based Green Left Weekly, She contributed this article to


[1] Sutherland, K., (15 January, 2008) Israeli attacks on Gaza kill 113 since Annapolis, Palestinian National Initiative
[2] Waked, A., (19 January, 2008) Growing Distress, YNet News;,7340,L-3496252,00.html
[3] UN warns of humanitarian crisis as Israel seals Gaza crossings (19 January, 2008), Ha’aretz;
[4] Houk, M., (10 – 16 January, 2008), Turning the Screws, Al Ahram Weekly,
[5] see Al Haq (21 January), Media Release – End the Siege of the Gaza Strip;  and;
Gaza Strip’s water, sewage systems to shut down ‘within hours’, (21 January, 2008), Maan News Agency;
[6] UN says Gaza crisis ‘intolerable’  (26 September, 2007), BBC News;

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