A human tragedy unfolded in the past weeks in the Palestinian Gaza Strip after Israel decided to cut fuel and electricity it used to provide for the densely populated area. These cuts, which are intended to pressure Palestinian armed groups to end their rocket attacks launched from Gaza against settlements in southern Israel, had a grave impact on Gaza’s hospitals, water-pumping stations, sewage-treatment facilities, and other infrastructure essential for the well-being of Gaza’s population.

And as Gaza sank into complete darkness by the last week of January, thousands of Palestinians crossed the Rafah border on foot into Egypt after Palestinian militants exploded the wall between the Strip and Egypt, in Rafah. Having been trapped in what is considered the “world’s largest concentration camp” by a tight Israeli blockade, Gazans poured into Egypt to buy food, fuel and other supplies that have become scarce in Gaza. And in spite of the US and Israeli protests at the crossing of Palestinians into Egyptian territories, the Egyptian border guards and Hamas police couldn’t but look on as Palestinians hurried over the border and returned with bags of food and plastic bottles of fuel. Egypt later resealed the borders with Gaza and deported Palestinians who poured into Northern Sinai.

And despite Israel later resumed electricity supply to Gaza, it started to reduce the electricity it sells directly to the Strip by 1.5 megawatts over the next three weeks after Palestinian rockets hit an Israeli settlement, injuring a number of children. This, in fact, adds to a series of Israeli measures since 2006 that have caused a 20 percent shortfall in Gaza’s electricity needs.

Adding insult to injury, the Israeli government’s move was supported by the Israeli Supreme Court approval of the fuel and electricity cuts, rejecting a petition by 10 Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups to end the Gaza tragedy.  

The tragedy prompted international human rights organizations to slam the energy cuts from Gaza Strip. The New York-based Human Rights Watch was the first to condemn the Israeli actions by saying that Israel’s cuts of fuel and electricity to Gaza “amounted to collective punishment of the civilian population, and violate Israel’s obligations under the laws of war.”  Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said that “the cuts are seriously affecting civilians who have nothing to do with these armed groups, and that violates a fundamental principle of the laws of war.”

Israel, in fact, sells to Gaza 120 megawatts of electricity per day, delivered by 10 feeder lines across the border. Gaza’s only power plant currently produces 55 megawatts, despite the fact that its full capacity is 100 megawatts. This was due to a 2006 Israeli air strike and subsequent fuel restrictions that have prevented the plant from operating at full capacity. An additional 17 megawatts come from Egypt.

Meanwhile, Egyptian opposition forces are calling upon the government to “provide Gaza with fuels instead of selling natural gas to Israel”. Several demonstrations were staged in most of Egyptian governorates  following the Israeli siege. And although the Egyptian border guards resealed the borders with Gaza, and given the continued Israeli siege on Gaza, many a political commentator expect a new breaking of the Egyptian borders by the Palestinians, a matter the Egyptian authorities stressed they would not allow for it to happen.

By Mohamed El-Sayed

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