The energy circle: 'fueling' the occupation in Gaza
Today, dozens of taxi drivers announced a strike in protest of the rising price of fuels in Gaza. They burned tires throughout the Strip, blocking roads and junctions and refusing to transport people to schools and jobs.
The price of gasoline has reached 5.45 shekels a litre and diesel 3.85 shekels a litre. A cylinder of cooking gas has reached a high of 47 shekels ($10...my jaw nearly dropped when the gas people delivered it to our door today), compared to 4 Egyptian pounds (less than $1) in nearby Egypt. All this, in a territory where there is an 84% poverty rate.
But who's to blame for the energy spike? Aren't the Israelis gone? Can't Gaza become its own state, produce its own energy?
The local rumor mill is abuzz with theories on the issue of the price rise itself. Some suggest that the outgoing Fateh party, in collusion with Israel and the United States, is trying to put the pressure on Hamas from the get-go, and so decided to hike prices. Of course, the Palestinian Energy Authority produces only 5% of Palestinian electricity, limited to production of biomass, small private electricity generation, and solar energy.
The Palestinian energy sector relies almost fully on imported energy, either directly from Israel or under the supervision of the Israeli authorities for oil products. Palestinians, by law, must rely on Israel for their energy needs according to the Paris Protocols-about 95% of the Palestinian electricity is generated by the Israel Electricity Corporation (IEC).
The Gaza Strip has a rich natural gas reserve in its territorial waters, which could be converted to electricity, used locally, sold abroad, and even transferred for use in the West Bank, which currently relies completely on Israel for electricity and natural gas.
But because Israel continues to maintain control the Palestinian coastline and borders, despite the much-lauded unilateral 'disengagment' of late last year, the PA cannot capitalize on this resource or market it at the moment. To quote Jimmy Carter, "circumscribed and isolated, without access to the air, sea, or the West Bank, Gaza is a non-viable economic and political entity.
Most Gaza families cannot afford gas ovens as a result of the outrageously high prices. They rely instead on small, single burner electric stovetops. Of course, electricity is likewise expensive here- in fact, Palestinians pay more for energy than any one else in the world.
The only difference is that electricity is provided in advance, without having to pay for the service as one would gas by the cylinder. So the result is that in many parts of Gaza, entire neighbourhoods haven’t paid their electricity bills in months because they simply cannot afford to.
One man told me his bill today turned up at 6000 shekels in overdue payments. The energy authority has no choice but to keep sending notices, but without shutting off their electricity, and usually ends up relying on donor agencies or charitable individuals to absorb the costs (part of the recent EU aid package is going to pay off the Israel Electricty Corporation). Some call it freeloading, others call it poverty and desperation.
These people aren’t living beyond their means-the means are just beyond them. I saw the home of the man who owes 6000 shekels. His daughters bake bread for their 8 member-family every other day on a small electric, locally made toaster oven with World Food Programme flour. They have no phone line, and a few light bulbs, and a fridge. That’s all.
Of course, I can’t help but think if we as Palestinians were given true sovereignty over our borders, and able to actually use and export our own gas and make our own electricity-or even if Israel reduced the prices of the electricity while this happens, all this could be avoided in the first place, millions of dollars could be saved, millions of people could live better lives. This is just one small, if technical, example of how Israel continues to 'fuel' the occupation in Gaza, following the equation of maximum control, and minimum responsiblity.