With Only Three Hours of Electricity a Day, Gaza Is 'On Verge of Explosion'

Palestinians in Hamas-controlled Strip are used to meager power, but with freezing weather and fuel shortages, electricity crisis is fomenting rising unrest, with fingers pointed at Palestinian leadership.

Gazans trying to keep warm at the Al-Shati refugee camp, January 2017.
Mahmud Hams / AFP

Tensions were rising in the Gaza Strip as a worsening power crisis, exacerbated by dropping temperatures, prompted protests and warnings that the situation in the Hamas-controlled enclave was increasingly unstable.

Power shortages have racked the Hamas-ruled territory for years, and residents have gotten used to having electricity for just six or seven hours a day. But over the past two months, Gazans have said they don’t have more than three hours a day, and even then it is erratic.

Palestinian factions in Gaza warned Saturday that the situation in the enclave was deteriorating in every respect and that anger and frustration were growing due to the power outages. The statement called on the Palestinian Authority and international organizations to find a solution.

On Saturday, dozens of young people holding candles left the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza to protest the blackouts and clashes with Hamas security  They demanded the intervention of the Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank town of Ramallah and lost Gaza to Hamas in a violent takeover in 2007.

The most recent electricity crisis stems from the inability of Gaza’s electricity authority to buy sufficient quantities of diesel fuel to run the territory’s power plant at full capacity, sources in the Strip say. Gazans consider the Palestinian Authority responsible for the crisis because it refused to reduce or eliminate the tax on diesel fuel supplied to the Strip, which considerably boost fuel costs.

A Palestinian youth sells the sweets on a Gaza street, during a power cut, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017.
Hatem Moussa/AP

This comes on top of repeated technical problems with the two power lines from Egypt that supplement the six power lines from Israel. But Israel’s supplies still do not fully meet the territory’s needs.

Plans have been drawn up to string an additional line from Israel that will supply electricity generated by natural gas. The plan has been approved by the politicians, but it will take more than two years for the power to begin flowing.

Jamal al-Khudri, who heads the Palestinian Committee Against the Siege on Gaza, said the situation was “on the verge of explosion,' and called on the international community including Arab countries to act immediately to ease the embargo. 

Daily demand for electricity in the territory is 600 megawatts, Gaza’s electricity authority says, but the local power plant supplies only 120 megawatts at most. Israel supplies about 120 megawatts as well, while Egypt provides 20 megawatts.

Over the past several weeks, due to the shortage of diesel fuel, total daily power supply, including electricity from Israel and Egypt, has reached only about 150 megawatts. As colder weather boosts demand, the situation is worsening, and there is also reportedly a shortage of gas used for heating, on top of the shortage of diesel fuel.

On Saturday, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian pointed a finger at both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, saying the division caused by the split between the Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza was only exacerbating the situation.

The blockade is not only the product of Israel’s limits on the movement of goods and people; Egypt is also limiting movement on its border with Gaza. Speaking Friday in the Gaza town of Beit Hanun, Khudri said the situation was “on the verge of explosion, and this requires immediate intervention.”

A million and a half Gazans rely entirely on international aid organizations, including Arab groups, and the organizations are having problems meeting the people’s needs, Khudri said. He said the average daily income of Gazans was $2.