Ever since 1879, when Thomas Edison publicly displayed an incandescent light -- which later became commonly known as the bulb -- at Menlo Park in New Jersey, electricity has been associated with progress and modernity, affecting people’s economic life, social relations, health standards and even power politics.
You can’t imagine life without it, can you? Well, maybe you can’t, but Gazans not only imagine life without electricity, but now are made to face the prospect of living their lives without it -- that is, in addition to their other woes.
The two million souls who inhabit this impoverished, densely populated strip of land, now universally recognized, not altogether hyperbolically, as “the biggest open-air prison in the world,” have to endure another hardship in their lives -- a wholesale electricity cut-off. The reason? An on-going dispute between leaders of Hamas and the Palestinian National Authority, with the latter recently informing Israel that they will stop payments for electricity that it supplies to the lone power plant in Gaza, until Hamas fully ceded control over the strip.
A disaster for Gazans
Even at the best of times, Israel’s blockade prevented a steady supply of fuel and necessary repairs to keep the plant running. Now, a disaster of gargantuan proportions looms for Gazans -- as if they need the added burden, at this time in their lives, of dealing with leaders who have convinced themselves that they can win the loyalty of citizens by force, coercion or the threat of pauperization.
The two million souls who inhabit this impoverished, densely populated strip of land, now universally recognized, not altogether hyperbolically, as “the biggest open-air prison in the world,” have to endure another hardship in their lives -- a wholesale electricity cut-off.Fawaz Turki
In January, after disruptions in the everyday life of ordinary Gazans, brought about by massive power cuts, Turkey and Qatar stepped in and donated four months worth of fuel. The two sponsors’ generosity, however, will not extend beyond April this year. And the PNA has made it clear that so long as Hamas remains in charge of the coastal enclave, the group should be responsible for paying the bills. Hamas does not have the funds. The infighting has left Gazans with roughly three to four hours of electricity a day -- so far. The worst is yet to come.
Deprived of basic needs
A ten-year blockade, and three dreadful wars, may have hardened Gazans to adversity, but have they been hardened enough to hack it without access to electrical power? And, no, we’re not talking here about fancy-shmancy access to power that provides people, say, with air-conditioning -- though, heaven knows, summer in Gaza can be brutal -- but amenities that no human community in the modern world can live without.
Imagine your food perishing because your refrigerator is not working. Senior citizens with heart problems, who live on the sixth floor of a high-rise building, having to climb to the sixth floor to get home. Families unable to do the laundry because their washers and driers are inoperative. Students unable to do their homework in the dark. Factories that have to lay-off workers, and stop producing consumer goods, because their machinery is idle. Municipalities unable to supply services such as potable water to people’s homes, or to efficiently treat human waste. Hospitals canceling critically needed surgeries. And the rest of it.
Still, the PNA will not budge. Its message to Hamas is clear: Relinquish control of Gaza, or you’ll be made to pay. But, wait, the cost of this mess -- a mess that is unnecessary, petty and pointless, given the fact that the Hamas-Fatah brouhaha derives not from religious doctrine or political objectives, but from a dispute over which of the two groups should have the bigger power profile in the Palestinian struggle -- will be shouldered by ordinary folks who just want to go about living their ordinary lives, that is, to the extent that people can live “ordinary lives” in a hellish place like Gaza, a place where people must endure a blockade that restricts the movement of people and goods, often on an Israeli soldier’s whim.
An unlivable city
Palestinians, both in the West Bank and Gaza, along with Palestinians in the diaspora, who have had it up to here with all the infighting, call the current situation, appropriately enough, a “waksek,” Arabic for a “self-inflicted wound.” It is indeed that. And Robert Piper, the UN Deputy Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, mindful of the heavy cost that Gazans are now actually paying, and will in the future potentially pay, called it a disaster. “We may be approaching a tipping point,” he said recently, “at which Gaza becomes unlivable.”
Did he say “approaching”? How about “approached”?
All because leaders of Hamas and Fatah have chosen to put their self-serving needs above those of the people they putatively lead. So, I say, a plague on both your houses.
Fawaz Turki is a Palestinian-American journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington, DC.