AFTER Israel decided to drastically cut electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territory, Robert Piper, characterised the ever-worsening crisis in Gaza as ‘an internal Palestinian dispute’ – as Israel’s military blockade on the coastal enclave marked its 10th anniversary this week.
In a statement on Wednesday, Piper warned that the electricity reduction would have ‘disastrous consequences’, and said that if implemented, the ‘reduction will bring most households and service-providers down to two hours or so of power per day’.
‘Hospitals, water supply, wastewater treatment and sanitation services have already been dramatically curtailed since mid-April,’ he said, referring to when Gaza’s sole power plant ceased to function as Gaza’s electricity officials said they could not afford a PA-imposed tax on diesel fuel that had doubled the price of operating the plant.
‘A further increase in the length of blackouts is likely to lead to a total collapse of basic services, including critical functions in the health, water, and sanitation sectors,’ Piper said. The UN official went on to call on the PA, Hamas, and Israel to equally take the ‘necessary measures to avoid further suffering’, saying that: ‘The people in Gaza should not be held hostage to this longstanding internal Palestinian dispute’ – reiterating an argument offered by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who also said the crisis was an ‘internal Palestinian issue’.
‘Hamas wants the PA to pay for (electricity) and the PA refuses,’ Netanyahu said in a statement on Tuesday. Both Israel and the PA have maintained that Hamas is to blame for allegedly collecting millions of shekels in taxes from Gazans every month without transferring the money to the Ramallah-based government. However, rights groups have contested this narrative.
Israeli NGO B’Tselem echoed previous arguments that the Israeli government was not merely a neutral service provider, but was chiefly accountable for the fate of Palestinians in Gaza, who as of this week have been under Israeli military blockade for a decade.
‘This is not some sort of natural disaster. Had that been the case, Israel would have likely sent in a humanitarian aid mission,’ B’Tselem said in a statement released Tuesday evening. Instead, the reality in Gaza is the result of Israel’s handiwork, achieved by its decade-long implementation of a brutal policy. Israel can, and must, change this reality.’
B’Tselem denounced the Israeli blockade for ‘consigning its residents to living in abject poverty under practically inhuman conditions unparalleled in the modern world’. Despite this intolerable reality, the Israeli cabinet has decided to accept the Palestinian Authority’s cruel plan to further reduce the power supply to Gaza. Should the Israeli decision be implemented, the situation in Gaza will deteriorate even further, making the area virtually unlivable.’
Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since winning the majority of votes in a 2006 election in the besieged coastal enclave, which erupted into a violent conflict between the movement and their rivals Fatah as they both attempted to consolidate control over the small Palestinian territory.
Following Hamas’ election victory and subsequent takeover of Gaza, Israel imposed a crippling blockade on the territory in June 2007, which has been upheld by the Egyptian government. As the blockade enters its second decade, and the population of Gaza exceeds two million Palestinians according to UN estimates, the severe electricity shortages have exacerbated the already dire living conditions in the small Palestinian territory.
War has also taken its toll, and during Israel’s 50-day offensive on Gaza in 2014, the power plant was targeted, completely knocking it out of commission. The UN has previously warned that the Gaza Strip would become uninhabitable for residents by 2020, pointing to the devastation of war and nearly a decade of Israel’s blockade.
• A spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, made a statement at a press briefing at the UN Headquarters in New York on Tuesday, warning that the World Food Program (WFP) would be forced to suspend assistance to some 150,000 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip next month unless additional funding is provided.
Stephane Dujarric said in his statement that the WFP ‘urgently requires’ $6.6 million in order to continue providing food assistance for the ‘poorest non-refugee families’ in Gaza and the West Bank through vouchers over the next three months.
‘A disruption of WFP assistance could further undermine food security and deepen the dire living conditions of the poorest families, most of whom live on less than $3.20 a day,’ Dujarric noted. Dujarric added that the WFP had warned that unless additional funding ‘quickly arrives’, it would be forced to suspend its food assistance voucher programme for the month of July, leaving 150,000 Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the majority of whom are women and children, without any food assistance.
Dujarric also noted how this reduction in food assistance would contribute to the already crippling humanitarian situation in the besieged Gaza Strip, which is experiencing a ‘major energy crisis’. Leaders have warned that a dire humanitarian situation is pending in the coastal enclave after Israeli authorities approved reducing Gaza’s electricity supply by 40 per cent on Monday, upon the request of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Palestinians in Gaza had already been coping with a crippling power crisis and daily, hours-long blackouts, while several districts have only been receiving four hours of electricity a day. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released reports this month, warning of a full-on crisis should the situation in Gaza continue on its current trajectory.
Dujarric’s statement also came on the heels of Netanyahu’s demands to shutter UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing services to some five million Palestinian refugees, and calling for the organisation to be integrated into the UNHCR – the UN High Commissioner for Refugees – after a tunnel was found beneath two UNRWA schools in central Gaza.
On Tuesday, Bo Schack, the director of UNRWA’s operations in the Gaza Strip, rejected Netanyahu’s statements and added that UNRWA was established by a UN General Assembly resolution and that an individual government did not have the power to dismantle it.
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness also responded to Netanyahu’s comments on Sunday by noting that UNRWA’s fate was decided only by the UN General Assembly, which extended the agency’s mandate by three years in December ‘by a large majority’. Gunness added that the issue of Palestinian refugees – who number an estimated 6.5 million according to legal NGO BADIL – could only be resolved through a negotiated end to the Israeli-Palestinian refugee conflict, instead of shuttering an aid agency catering to their humanitarian needs.
‘The situation of Palestine refugees needs to be resolved as part of a political resolution of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,’ Gunness added. ‘It is time for political action to resolve this long-standing crisis.’
According to UNRWA, 80 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on humanitarian assistance, as the two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are sealed inside the coastal enclave due to a military blockade imposed by Israel and upheld by Egypt on the southern border, which turned 10 years old in June.