'The Cold Keeps the Food From Going Bad'

Gaza Strip residents yesterday moved from worrying about the electricity cuts of the previous 40 hours to worrying about a water shortage. The municipality needs electricity to bring water to homes and the houses need it to pump water to the roof tanks.

Hence 40 percent of Gaza Strip homes - 600,000 people - had no running water yesterday, the Palestinian water authority said.

Oxfam International said yesterday that unless diesel and fuel supplies were resumed immediately, all the Strip's water pumps could stop working today. The non-governmental organization also warned of the sewage system's collapse in the absence of diesel.

"Without electric power we can manage somehow, without bread too," says a resident of the Nasser neighborhood in northern Gaza. "It's cold enough to prevent the food from going bad and we try to open the refrigerator as little as possible. The kids grumble but they can learn to live without the computer. But without water?"

"We calculate each step," he says. "We don't put on the gas heaters, because tomorrow might be colder. We don't cook for long. But to consider whether to go to the toilet? Whether to wash our face? That is insufferable."

The Israeli human rights organizations Adalah and Gisha yesterday petitioned the High Court of Justice for an urgent interim injunction to prevent Israel from continuing to restrict the industrial diesel oil supply to the Gaza Strip. They said the shortage deriving from Israel's deliberate cuts in recent weeks culminated in the dramatic closure of the border crossings on Friday. The power cuts caused a shortage of drinking water and damage to the hospitals' function already on January 5, when Gaza's electric power's production was cut by 30 percent. But the High Court of Justice dismissed their request.

From small transistor radios, people listened to Al-Jazeera news broadcasts on local radio stations throughout the day. This was their only link to the world, as no newspapers are reaching the Strip either. The report of the defense minister's order to resume the diesel supply reached one Gaza City resident while he was sitting on the sofa at home, wrapped in a blanket. The gas in the heater ran out two days ago. His daughters and wife were also covered with blankets, as were most city residents. It was the only thing they could do, to ward off the cold.

He asked himself if the resumption of diesel supply - if indeed the promise was kept - would change the picture he saw from his window today: a grid of dark streets. The weak light, coming from the windows of a few apartments that had private generators, only enhanced the darkness all around.