Gaza Diary: The War to Keep Warm

Winter in Gaza used to be about watching TV and roasting chestnuts; now it's a fight for the shower during the brief time we have electricity.

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub
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Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub

As I’m writing this now, I’m in a race against time; not only because I have a deadline, but also because I have only three hours of electricity per day. During the three hours, I have to charge my laptop and cellphones, queue for a shower, wash and iron my clothes, and get my pieces filed.

I always loved winter; it was always my favorite. To me, it was always a season where I hand around the heater along with my siblings and parents watching TV and roasting chestnuts. This scene is no longer our typical winter; today, our winter is about fighting over who showers first.

Today, we are no longer hanging out anywhere; my sisters and I never leave our beds as it’s the only way to keep out the cold; it’s barely working.

The blackout crisis is not new. More than 1.7 million Gazans have been suffering it since 2007, yet it became more complicated with the storm that has hit the Palestinian territories. For the last three days, my family and I haven’t left our home, neither for work nor for schools.

For the last two days, even the three hours weren’t useful for anything. With the increasing electrical needs, the electricity power was too weak to turn anything on, except for the lights.

As I live in the city, in a tall building to beat, my house wasn’t really affected by the storm, yet we couldn’t adjust to the extreme cold on account of the lack of electricity. My mum ended up corralling heating coal for us so to get a little warmth during the night, yet we are always concerned about suffocating because of the smoke.

Outside our neighborhood, hundreds of houses were damaged; people had to evacuate their houses to the “shelters” that happened to be public schools. Dozens of people there were injured, many got their furniture ruined and many shops had to get rid of their goods after the floods damaged them.

My friend told me about her family having to flee their house using boats. Yes, boats! The only way civil defense members were able to get the children and the old to safety was by fishing boats.

Gaza hasn’t witnessed such low temperatures in decades, yet what made it worse was the deteriorating humanitarian situation of people living in the besieged coastal enclave. After the ouster of the Egyptian president last July, once loyal to Hamas government in Gaza, the Egyptian authorities started a systematic campaign to shut down thousands of tunnels, which has functioned as a lifeline for people in Gaza, beneath the Egyptian-Palestinian borders.

With the borders shut down, Gaza started to relive an old fuel crisis. While Israeli fuel is often available, it’s too expensive for people here to afford. Most of the cars are idle; people can’t switch their generators on when the electricity is off; it's too much for Gaza residents to endure.

Last winter, we in Gaza lived a very violent winter after Israel waged an eight-day offensive on Gaza. Today, we are facing a natural disaster alone, without support from anyone. As someone who chose to stay in her homeland forever, I feel I’m someone who chose to go on fighting just to keep breathing.

Palestinian rescue members evacuating residents using a fishing boat in Gaza City, Saturday. Rescue workers evacuated more than 5,000 Gaza Strip residents, an official said.Credit: AP

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