Hamas Warns: Israel's 'Disastrous' New Power Cut Would Spark an Explosion in Gaza

Due to power shortages, sewage flows in the streets and entire hospital wings have stopped functioning, Israeli human-rights group says ■ On top of outages, medical supplies are dwindling, hundreds of chronic patients not getting treatment

A Palestinian family eats dinner by candlelight at their makeshift home in the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, during a power outage on June 11, 2017
SAID KHATIB/AFP

An Israeli inner cabinet decision to further reduce the already intermittent electricity supply to the Gaza Strip was met with an outcry in the coastal enclave, with Hamas calling it "disastrous."

Cutting power pushes the Strip even closer to explosion, Hamas said in its first response to the Israeli decision. 

Hamas was responding to the decision by Israel’s security cabinet Sunday to reduce the supply of power to Gaza, which was based on an Israel Defense Forces recommendation not to make things easy for Hamas, but to go along with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' decision to reduce the funds the Palestinian Authority pays Israel for providing power to the Strip.

A few weeks ago, Abbas informed Israel that he would cut by 40 percent the amount of money he transfers to Israel to provide electricity in Gaza. Abbas made the decision as part of his attempt to put heavy pressure on Hamas. Israel responded that the supply would be cut according to the payments received. The reduction is expected to worsen the already difficult humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, Military Intelligence chief Herzl Halevi and the Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories Yoav Mordechai described an increasingly desperate situation in Gaza, and they assessed that further reducing the power supply could cause an escalation.

Nevertheless, the army does not want to ease the pressure on Hamas, and Mordechai recommended not taking a position at odds with that of Abbas. 

The Gaza Electricity Authority also warned that reducing the power supply to the Strip any further would probably lead to disaster. 

The authority’s spokesman, Mohammed Thabat, said Monday that electricity lines from Israel are now the only source of steady electricity to the Strip, given the many disruptions in the supply from Egypt and the fact that the Gaza power plant is operating at very reduced capacity.

Thabat was responding to the Israeli decision to reduce the supply of power, though he told the Palestinian news agency Shihab that this reduction had not yet gone into effect. Thabat said that Gaza residents now have electricity between three to four hours a day and it’s hard to assess what their situation would be after any further cuts. Hamas called Israel’s decision to accede to Abbas’ desire to pressure Gaza "a disaster" that is exacerbating an explosive situation.

Shortage of vital medicine

In addition to undermining the electricity supply, the PA has stopped transferring funds to the Gaza health system. According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, some 240 infants and hundreds of people with cancer and with cystic fibrosis are not getting treatment as a result.

Gisha, an organization that advocates for Palestinian freedom of movement, has written to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, stressing that as a result of the power cuts, sewage is flowing in the streets, desalination plants are idle and entire hospital departments have stopped functioning. “Professional bodies are already warning of a humanitarian disaster,” the letter said.

A Gaza resident told Haaretz that the Israeli decision was greeted with a degree of apathy by local residents, who are assuming Israel will not implement it because of the potentially grave consequences. Still, he added, “We in Gaza have suffered almost everything and we will know how to overcome this crisis. There is no doubt this will only add tension to the pressure cooker known as the Gaza Strip.”

Intelligence Affairs Minister Yisrael Katz told the Israel Conference on Peace on Monday that the security cabinet had to “first and foremost preserve Israeli interests.” He added, “Israel doesn’t have a policy on Gaza, there are decisions. Israel is always confronting dilemmas between organizations like Doctors Without Borders and what [Abbas] wants that same day.”

According to Physicians for Human Rights, the PA allocation for 13 government hospitals and 54 clinics had been $4 million a month; in April it was dropped to $2.3 million, and last month it was just $500,000.

As a result, Gaza has run out of one-third of essential medicines, and lacks over 270 pieces of medical equipment needed for operating rooms and intensive care units. The main victims are 321 people with cystic fibrosis, most of them children. They aren’t getting the antibiotics and the vitamins they require, and the ventilators they need cannot be used because of the power shortage. Some 240 babies with developmental problems who need special milk aren’t getting it. And according to the most updated announcement from the Palestinian Health Ministry, 90 percent of the cancer patients in Gaza are not being treated according to protocol because numerous drugs are missing.  

“The humanitarian crisis in Gaza should keep anyone who can help solve the problem awake at night,” said Ron Goldstein, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. “Gaza’s children have become hostage to the political games of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Israel. The change must be dramatic and immediate — the transfer of funds, drugs and electricity, opening Gaza to the outside world and providing immediate humanitarian aid.”