Electricity Shortages in Gaza Lead to Beach Pollution Just Over the Border in Israel

The Israeli Health Ministry believes that the shutdown of a Gaza sewage plant due to power shortages led to pollution at Zikim beach and Ashkelon National Park, which have been closed to swimmers

The Zikim beach in December 2016.
The Zikim beach in December 2016. Ilan Assayag

Beaches in southern Israel were closed to swimmers on Wednesday due to pollution, after power shortages in nearby Gaza led a sewage treatment plant there to shut down.

The electricity shortages in the Gaza Strip appear to have caused untreated sewage to flow just over the border into Israel’s Mediterranean waters. The Health Ministry banned swimming on the beaches at Zikim and Ashkelon National Park after sewage was detected in the water.

Officials suspect that the pollution is sewage that was left untreated after the plant was shuttered due to severe electricity shortages in Gaza, and that it drifted north onto Israeli beaches. 

There is no forecast as to when the beaches will reopen.

Gaza’s sewage treatment plant has not been in operation for some time due to the electricity crisis in the Hamas-ruled enclave, which was exacerbated further last month when the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority cut its payments for electricity supplied to the Strip by Israel. 

The PA asked Israel to reduce its power to the enclave as part of a years-long effort by the PA, led by the rival Fatah party, to force Hamas into relinquishing political power in Gaza and joining a unified government.

Fatah was ousted from power in Gaza by Hamas in 2007.

Since the sewage plant halted its operations, an estimated 110,000 cubic meters a day of sewage have been flowing into the Mediterranean off the Gaza coast. On Wednesday, the Israeli Health Ministry detected excessive bacterial and fecal levels just to the north of Gaza. 

EcoPeace Middle East, an organization that brings together Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian ecologists, reported that sewage levels have increased by a third since the reduction in power to the Gaza Strip.

After the Health Ministry’s swimming ban was announced, Ashkelon Mayor Tomer Glam wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking him to find an immediate solution to the electricity crisis in Gaza, or at least to find a solution to the problem of untreated sewage. 

In a public statement, the mayor noted that this is the height of the swimming season, and “the last thing we want to happen is to close beaches.”

With reporting by Reuters.