Electricity protests in Gaza: Hamas suppresses the working class

Protest in Jabalya. January 12th, 2017.

Hamas security forces dispersed thousands of protesters on Thursday, who were demanding an end to the power cuts.

Fighting with police erupted in the Jabalya refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, on Thursday 12th January, after thousands gathered to protest against the ongoing energy crisis.

Demonstrators marched toward the electricity company offices, chanting slogans against Hamas and Fatah leaders. Tires were burned and stones hurled at the armed security officers of Hamas. Hamas security forces, trying to prevent demonstrators from storming the power company offices, responded by firing gunshots into the air, thereby dispersing the crowd.

According to Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad al-Buzom, Hamas security forces acted to protect the electricity company’s property from “vandalism”.

Whereas previously, locals could expect to receive 8-hours of electricity per day, now they get, at most, just 4 hours. As a result, this winter in Gaza, homes remain unheated with makeshift indoor and outdoor-communal fires being burned for warmth and candles being used to light homes, which has led to several fatal fires. At night, many of the streets remain unlit, and by day, not much workplace activity can take place.

A view shows neighbourhoods during a power cut in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip January 11, 2017. Picture taken January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Some of the larger factories and wealthier households are able to purchase diesel for private generators, but for the working-class in Gaza, where the unemployment rate is 43% and average income between $2 and $7 a day, this is not possible.

The immediate cause of this crisis is that Gaza is receiving only about a third of the 450-500MW it needs per day: the local power plant, which was bombed by Israeli forces in 2006, remains at only half-capacity, due to the lack of funds to acquire the diesel fuel needed to increase output.

30MW are now produced by Gaza’s ageing power plant, 30MW imported from Egypt and 120MW supplied from Israel. Power supplied by Israel and Egypt is paid by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which then normally transfers fuel to Gaza and exempts it from most taxes. However, because of its own financial problems, the exemptions on excise tax granted to Hamas for the purchase of fuel for Gaza’s power plant have been reduced, leading to a considerable increase in costs.

The power company itself is not in a position to seek more credit to restore the power network – officials say they need $500 million. The blockade of Gaza by both Israel and Egypt makes it difficult to acquire supplies for construction. Additionally, Gazans used to buy cheap diesel from Egypt, this is no longer possible. In the present crisis, Hamas blames the PA, the PA blames Israel, and Israel blames Hamas…

The “financial problems” of the PA are largely self-inflicted, a consequence of its endemic corruption. Added to this, there is then Hamas’ reckless approach to the administration of Gaza; the long-term pusuit of a fruitless strategy of armed confrontation with Israel has brought serious damage to the economy, including the destruction of infrastructure, it remains unsurprising that Hamas struggles to find the funds to resolve the energy crisis. Additionally, the Israeli state’s continual, murderous onslaughts on Gaza, as well as the severe restrictions on the movement of goods and people (the blockade – in tandem with the Egyptian state), have led to a dramatic decline of funds and conditions within Gaza in recent years.

The palace of President Mahmoud Abbas. A monument to PA corruption and decadence. Source: (Middle East Eye/Shadi Hatim)

In Gaza today, many homes and factories lie in ruins, the unemployment rate is extremely high, as is the poverty rate, the majority struggle to obtain basic goods to live, sewage runs through the streets, the water is unsafe for consumption, hospitals face a shortage of medicine and equipment and depend on diesel-fuelled generators for respirators, incubators and similar equipment.

As a consequence of three wars in six years, and eight years of blockade, a UN Conference on Trade and Development report suggested that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020.

In such conditions, social unrest by the working-class of Gaza, who are caught within a perfect storm – subjugated by a superpower, led by a party of incompetent militants, and relying on help from West Bank crooks – is likely to continue. The response of Hamas, the PA, and the Israeli state will, unsurprisingly, be to attempt to contain, derail, or suppress such spontaneous expressions of discontent, lest they extend and gather support in the West Bank and Israel.

“Oh, Haniya and Abbas, we are being trampled!”

– protesters’ chant

“I look at the sky but even the sky in Gaza has no stars, … I cannot read or study in my home, and even when I go out into the street there is no light.”

– a student demonstrator

“There is no work, no crossings, no food, no water to drink and also there is no electricity … Enough Hamas. Enough, enough, enough. We want electricity, we want electricity, we want electricity.”

– from a video produced by comedian Adel Al-Mashwakhy, arrested soon after it was posted online

Young people kill themselves due to feelings of hopelessness. There is a lot of despair. We also try to provide mental assistance for these people, as well as for children suffering from serious post-war trauma.

– Salah Haj Yahya, member of ‘Physicians for Human Rights’, who leads medical teams into Gaza


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