A concise explantion of why the Gaza Power Plant shut down again today, causing significant electrical shortages in central Gaza

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights [PCHR] in Gaza has offered a concise explanation of the complete and unconscionable mess that has been made in a complicated situation that resulted in today’s shut-down, once again, of the only power plant in Gaza, which supplies one-third of the electricity needed by some 1.5 million souls in the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely-populated areas on earth, which has in effect become a large open-air holding pen.

But first, some essential background:

The Gaza Power Plant was constructed in the optimistic years of the Oslo process.

Hamas pulled off a surprise victory in the January 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, and Fatah was furious. As punishment for the pro-Hamas vote, almost all aid was cut off to the Palestinian Authority [in both the West Bank and Gaza] by the large international donors, particularly but not exclusively those represented in the Quartet [the U.S., Russian Federation, the EU + the UN, which is not a donor but when it works on the ground is mainly an implementing body]

During this donor cut-off, for some 18 months, Palestinian Authority [PA] employees were paid no salaries, and relied on bank loans arranged by the PA but on which the employees had to pay interest.

In the midst of that turmoil and hardship, in late June 2006, the Gaza Power Plant was bombed by the Israeli Air Force, in reprisal for a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants on the Kerem Shalom area [just outside the southeastern corner of the Gaza Strip, where the borders of Egypt’s Sinai, Israel’s Negev Desert, and the Gaza Strip all meet], during which IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit was seized and taken into Gaza, [where he was held prisoner until his release in a prisoner exchange with Hamas brokered by Egypt in 2011].

For the six sweltering summer months of 2006, there was very limited electricity in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has supplied some 20 percent of the daily need in Gaza through 11 feeder lines at the northern and western perimeter of the Gaza Strip. Egypt now supplies 17% cross border from Egyptian Rafah to Gazan Rafah [the city of Rafah is divided into two], up from 11 percent earlier.

The Gaza Power Plant was not repaired until November 2006.

It then began to supply most of the balance of energy needed, to the central Gazan Strip area, where Gaza City is located, and where some 500,000 of the inhabitants of Gaza live. At the time that the Gaza Power Plant came back on line in late 2006, the European Union began to pay subsidies of some 10 million dollars a month or so needed to import from Israel [via Nahal Oz] the industrial diesel fuel needed to run the reconstructed Gaza Power Plant.

The PA ordered the fuel supplies for Gaza from Israel, the sole supplier, and the EU paid for them…

Then, after the Hamas rout of Palestinian/Fatah Preventive Security Forces in mid-June 2007 — which PA President Mahmoud Abbas called a “military coup” — things went from very bad, to much worse. PA President Mahmoud Abbas then carried out what can only be called a “political coup”, by immediately dissolving a short-lived “National Unity Government” and establishing an “Emergency Government” headed by the Abbas-appointed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, while Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas continued as Prime Minister of what essentially became a separate administration in Gaza. Though Haniyeh and Hamas refused to recognize Salam Fayyad’s new role, they did continue to regard Mahmoud Abbas as President –at least until the four-year term of office for which Abbas had been elected expired in January 2009.

[Some in the West Bank argued that Abbas’s term could be considered legitimate until January 2010, for the reason of holding simultaneous presidential and legislative elections at the same time at that point. Hamas seemed, to a greater or lesser degree, to go along with this. In October 2009, Abbas did proclaim an election date of 24 January 2010 — but he cancelled it a month later, some two months before the polls were scheduled to open…]

Meanwhile, by July 2007, just after the open Hamas-Fatah + Gaza/West Bank split, donor aid was cut off to Gaza [except for the industrial diesel fuel subsidies for the Gaza Power Plant, which continued, and some limited other social welfare contributions].

But in July 2007, donor aid resumed to the West Bank, and in fact flowed lavishly — leading to the deceptive development of what has been called the “Ramallah bubble”.

Then, in September 2007 [six months after the Hamas rout of Palestinian security, and with Gilad Shalit in captivity], the Israeli Cabinet declared Hamas-ruled Gaza a “hostile territory”, or “enemy entity”. And, the government left it to the Israeli military to carry out this decision.

The Israeli Ministry of Defense came up with a plan of tightening sanctions — permitting only the most essential humanitarian goods to enter Gaza [for months, only 13 items were on the permitted list], and nothing to leave the sealed coastal strip. The Israeli military also decided, as a further punitive + coercive measure [to induce “regime change”] to reduce, by 15% each month starting in late October, the quantities of fuel + gas + electricity it supplied [of course, for payment] that would be allowed into Gaza.

A coalition of 9-10 Israeli + Palestinian human rights organizations went to Israel’s Supreme Court to petition against these sanctions, which they said amounted to collective punishment which was illegal under international law.

After months of hearings, the Israeli Supreme Court in late January 2008 decided against the petition, and permitted the military-devised sanctions against Gaza to continue — as long as the Israeli military made sure that there would not be a “humanitarian crisis” [this was not defined] in Gaza.

In August 2008, the Free Gaza movement sent the first boats from Cyprus to Gaza with activists and journalists on board and a limited quantity of supplies, with the stated intention of “breaking the [Israeli] siege” on the Gaza Strip. Several expeditions managed to get though, but by the end of the year, Israel began using force against the activist-chartered ships.

Meanwhile, a rather perilous but highly-profitable Hamas-backed tunnel industry developed, which eventually eased the severe shortages by permitting risky large-scale import of consumer goods — and fuel — from Egypt via the tunnels dug out under the Philadelphi corrider [formerly patrolled by Israel soldiers until the unilateral “disengagement” ordered by Ariel Sharon in September 2005]…

In last December 2008, the Israeli military launched Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
As the ground operation was launched on the night of 3-4 January, Israel declared a formal naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space [which had been defined by Israeli-Palestinian agreement in maps attached to the early Oslo-era agreements in 1994 + 1995].

Some 22 days later, on 18 January 2009, just hours before the inauguration of Barack Obama as the then-newly-elected U.S. President, both Israel and Hamas each implemented their own separate cease-fires. But the Israeli formal naval blockade continued. Some 1300 Palestinians, including some 800 or so clearly identified as civilians, about half of whom were children, were killed. Thousands were wounded; tens of thousands of homes and offices and factories were destroyed or badly damaged; and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were traumatized. The Israeli military operation was widely criticized around the world.

At the end of May 2010, the largest Free Gaza expedition set sail from various ports, bolstered by a very large presence sponsored by a Turkish Islamist humanitarian aid organization, IHH. Israeli analysts began to call this NGO a terrorist organization. The Israeli Navy was ordered to stop this expedition, and did so on the high seas, and dropped commandos from helicopters on the largest Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara. Nine Turkish men, including a 19-year-old Turkish-American high school student, were shot and killed by the Israeli soldiers who said they feared for their lives during the operation. The public outcry world-wide was again significant.

At this point, the Israeli military changed its sanctions regime against Gaza, permitting some loosening, and a new system was devised, which basically made broad lists of only those items that were prohibited [supposedly, mainly weapons and dual-use items, as opposed to the previous system of lists that narrowly defined + restricted what was allowed].

The change has been slow and difficult, and is not complete. But, this is what UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon nonetheless thanked Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak for, during BAN’s speech at the Herzliya Conference in early February, thanks that were scornfully criticized by journalists and analysts as well as activists…

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Meanwhile, by November 2009, almost a year after Operation Cast Lead, the European Union stopped subsidizing payments for the industrial diesal fuel used by the Gaza Power Plant — and instead gave an equivalent amount of money to the Ramallah-based PA to pay for its salaries [as well as for the salaries of those PA employees in Gaza who the PA in Ramallah subsidizes as long as they stay at home and do not work, which would be a help to Hamas].

In exchange, the Ramallah-based PA was supposed to pay the fuel costs. But, the PA in Ramallah instead withheld payments — saying that collection of electricity bills in Gaza was not 100%, and did not cover thed costs of the fuel.

Thus, critical shortages were created that led to several short-term shut-downs of the Gaza Power Plant.

A few months later, the Gaza Power Plant engineer Dirar Abu Sisi developed a way to modify more cheap regular diesel fuel imported from Egypt via the tunnels so that this modified fuel could be used to operate the Gaza Power Plant, at a great savings in cost, with the added benefit of breaking both the Israeli monopoly of supply and the Israeli ability to limit fuel supplies in Gaza. [Abu Sisi, meanwhile, is now in Israeli jail after being kidnapped last year while in Ukraine where he was seeking to immigrate with his Ukrainian wife and their kids…]

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This brings us to where we are today.

So, coming to the PCHR’s concise explanation [avoiding most direct unpleasantness, either with regard to Hamas or to the PA in Ramallah] of today’s forced shut-down of the Gaza Power Plant says this:

    “According to PCHR’s follow up of the ongoing power crisis in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Energy Authority in Gaza announced that the operation of the Gaza Power plant was totally stopped this morning, 14 February 2012, due to the lack of fuel. The Energy Authority alleged that the lack of fuel is due to the intentional measures taken to prevent the delivery of fuel to Gaza. In a press release published today on its website, the Energy Authority in Gaza noted that the main power resource in Gaza shut down, explaining that this power resource already suffers from serious deficit and covers only 35% of Gaza needs’ of electrical power. The Energy Authority held the Israeli occupation accountable for the ongoing crisis.For over a week, the Gaza power plant has been suffering from a decrease in fuel coming from Egypt through tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border. Since last Friday, 340,000 liters of fuel were delivered to Gaza via tunnels. This quantity of fuel can operate Gaza power plant only for half a day as the Plant consumes 600,000 liters of fuel daily. The Energy Authority in Gaza used the fuel in its stock to cover the deficit in the fuel supplies. Fuel ran out from the stocks and the Energy Authority announced the total shutdown of the Power plant.PCHR has concerns that the new crisis may result in serious consequences. This crisis will increase electrical shortage to 62%. Mr. Jamal al-Dardasawi, Director of Public Relations in the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO) in Gaza, stated that currently 137 megawatts of electricity is provided to the Gaza Strip as follows: 120 megawatts from Israel and 17 megawatts supplied by Egypt. The Gaza Strip needs approximately 360 megawatts of electricity daily. Al-Dardasawi noted that the GEDCO will apply a schedule based on which power will be distributed for six hours and then cut off for 12 hours every day.

    Eng. Walid Saad Sayel, Executive Manager of the Gaza Power plant accused, in press statements, GEDCO and the Energy Authority of serious failure to play the role assigned to them. He noted that the plant can technically provide between 130 and 140 megawatts of electricity but the limited quantities of fuel supplied to the plant affects its capacity. Sayel said that the power crisis has been seriously affected the Gaza Strip since the start of the internal fragmentation. He called upon all the parties concerned to neutralize the power sector and not to involve it in the political crisis.

    It should be noted that before November 2009, the European Union (EU) used to pay 50 million NIS monthly for the cost of the industrial fuel supplied from Israel to the Gaza power plant. In November 2009, the EU announced its suspension of the direct funds used to pay the cost of the industrial fuel. The EU started to pay those funds to the PNA which in turn pledged to pay for the cost of the industrial fuel needed for the operation of the power plant. The Palestinian Energy Authority in Ramallah used funds from its budget to pay for the cost of the needed industrial fuel while, on its part, GEDCO transferred the money it collected from power consumers in the Gaza Strip to the Energy Authority in Ramallah.

    However, the Energy Authority in Ramallah reduced the financial coverage for the industrial fuel, claiming that the money sent by GEDCO was not sufficient to cover the cost of the industrial fuel needed for Gaza power plant.

    Over the two past years, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip suffered power outages between 6 and 12 hours a day. In [April 2010?…] the Energy Authority in Gaza and the Energy Authority in Ramallah reached an agreement that GEDCO would transfer $4 million to the Energy Authority in Ramallah to be used to cover the cost of the industrial power.

    [BUT] In January 2011, the Energy Authority in Gaza stopped importing industrial fuel from Israel, and imported fuel from Egypt through the funnels as technicians in the Energy Authority managed to utilize the Egyptian fuel to operate Gaza Power plant.

    The suffering of the Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip has aggravated, especially in light of the cold weather, due to the ongoing power crisis and Palestinians have suffered repeated power outages. The people expressed their utmost dissatisfaction because the power sector is put in the midst of the political conflict. The new crisis coincides with the beginning of the second school semester”.

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Meanwhile, Ma’an News Agency reported today, here, that:

    “Gaza’s Energy Authority said ‘measures taken’ on the Egyptian side of the border meant not enough fuel was entering the territory. It did not provide further details. Some local experts said Hamas had mismanaged Gaza’s power needs by failing to provide a viable alternative to the precarious tunnels under Gaza’s border with Egypt. The Gaza power plant needs 600,000 liters of fuel a day to keep running, but the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said only 340,000 litres had arrived from Egypt since Friday, with no reserve stocks left in Gaza to cover the shortfall. ‘We are sorry to announce that we are unable to provide hospitals, education premises, water pumps and waste water facilities and all other fields of life with the enough quantities of electricity’, said Ahmad Abu Al-Amreen, information director at the Energy Authority. He urged Egypt to allow more fuel into Gaza, but did not explain what had caused the sudden drop in the flows. Locals said in normal circumstances a fleet of trucks arrived at the Egyptian side of the border and pumped fuel through pipes in the tunnels that lead into Gaza … Abu Al-Amreen said Israel bore overall responsibility for the ongoing crisis, but Mustafa Ibrahim, a human rights researcher and writer, said Hamas’s administration had failed to provide the territory with an energy safety net. ‘(The Energy Authority) made everything depend on fuel smuggled through the tunnels, without having any guarantees that this flow could continue. The current severe crisis is evidence that this was the wrong approach’, he said”.

This is a dreary and shameful episode in intra-Palestinian rivalry, and does not bode well…

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