Opinion

Israel's Plague of Darkness for Gazans Is an Act of Terrorism

It's the worst thing Israel's done all year. It's a punishment which targets huge numbers of people who have committed no crime

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Palestinians walking on a street at the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City during once electricity has been cut off, June 11, 2017.
Palestinians walking on a street at the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City during once electricity has been cut off, June 11, 2017.Credit: AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

When I was small and the Passover Seder hit the ten plagues, I remember exactly the feeling that came over me. It was throat-fist dread.

I remember thinking about kids in Egypt then. Asking why this night was different from all other nights, because they couldn't drink the water anymore.

And as the plagues got successively worse, as the punishments got serially more terrifying, there was no changing how it would turn out.

It got dark everywhere. And then children began to die.

Last week, discussing what Benjamin Netanyahu called an “internal Palestinian matter" - a request by the Palestinian Authority, part of the PA's campaign to erode Hamas rule in Gaza - the prime minister’s security cabinet voted to cut significantly the amount of vital electric power that Israel supplies to the people of the Gaza Strip.

The cabinet did so knowing that the step was liable to spur escalation toward war with Hamas. It did so knowing that even if escalation did not occur, the Gaza Electricity Authority had warned that reducing the power supply to the Strip any further would likely lead to a humanitarian disaster.

On Monday, Israel hit the kill switch.

On the longest days of the year, in the choking heat of the Gaza summer, with days still to go on the sunrise-to-sundown fast of Ramadan, with the power supply in the Strip already severely compromised, with hospital wards and drinking-water desalination plants already closed down for lack of power, with raw sewage running in the streets and between houses, the cuts on Monday meant that Gazans, who were already somehow making do with only four hours of electricity every 24 hours, would have their power shut down for an additional 45 minutes a day.

It was the worst thing Israel's done all year. On Tuesday it got worse.

The Israel Electric Corporation cut power even further, Gaza's electricity authority announced on Tuesday. The new cuts left the western part of Gaza City and areas in the northern Strip with just two and a half to three hours of electricity per day.

For its part, Israel sloughs blame over the cuts onto the Palestinian Authority. The PA says Hamas is responsible.

But everyone knows this: Israel made its own choice. It could have said no to the PA. Israel said yes. The IDF's top generals have noted that the decision could spark escalation (Hamas actually used the term "an explosion"), but, as an Israeli official was quoted as saying, the army recommended against leniency toward Hamas. In any case, senior cabinet minister Yisrael Katz said last week with regard to the power cuts, "First and foremost the Israeli interest should be protected."

So there we are. This is how this government views its own base: people who prize cruelty for its own sake. People who believe that whatever it may be, denying them water, electricity, functioning hospitals – even leaving hundreds children dead in the course of a war - all of the 1.9 million people of Gaza have it coming to them.

This government views its own base as callous, hot-blooded racists. And it acts accordingly. It wants us to know that Israel's finger on the button is the middle one. It sees itself as government of the scum, by the scum, for the scum.    

The reduction in electricity has its origins in a fierce political struggle between the Palestinian Authority and Gaza's Hamas rulers. It comes at a time when the PA, which pressed Israel to cut the electricity supply, has also dramatically curtailed vital payments to Gaza's health system.

As a result, according to figures compiled by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Palestinian Health Ministry, shortages in medical equipment and medications, compounded by the power shortages, are gravely affecting a range of Gazans with serious medical conditions.

Among them are 321 cystic fibrosis patients, most of them children, whose ventilators have been shut down by the electricity crisis and whose antibiotics and other medications are in short supply or unavailable.

Lack of medications and other vital goods are also said to be compromising the treatment of  hundreds of cancer patients, and also of 240 babies suffering from developmental problems.

If all that were not bad enough, there are strong indications that the serious water pollution resulting from untreated Gaza sewage pouring into the Mediterranean, will soon also foul the water in Ashkelon and other areas of Israel, and could cause outbreaks of disease in Gaza and Israel both.

"The moment that there's a power outage in Gaza, there's no sewage treatment," former Israeli Environmental Protection Ministry director-general Yossi Inbar warned on Tuesday, "and raw sewage which flows into the sea will move northward, because the current goes from south to north."

"Beyond the fact that the water will be polluted and we will not be able to swim, it's also liable to shut down an [Ashkelon-area] desalination plant which is close to the border," Inbar, arguing against the power supply shut-down, told Army Radio. "There may also be pollution of ground water, accumulation of sewage in the streets or 'lakes' of one sort or another are liable to bring about dangers of mosquitoes or other pests, and disease may break out."

The border between Gaza and Israel is virtual and of no significance where the sea is concerned, Inbar continued, and the pollution could reach Ashkelon and then Ashdod-area beaches very soon. He noted that the power outage which was already denying tap water to Gazans could affect Israel's water supply as well. "Beyond the suffering of the residents of the Gaza Strip, diseases and stench will also come to us."

"The fish in the Nile will die," the Book of Exodus says of the first plague, "and the river will stink and the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water."

Across Israel, people are beginning to take action against the government's decision. Last week, the Gisha organization, an NGO which concentrates on Gaza, initiated an urgent letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, demanding that he advise the cabinet to rescind the decision to cut power.

The letter was co-signed by a large cross-section of human rights groups: Adalah, HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, The Association for Civil Rights In Israel, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Zazim, Bimkom, Yesh Din, Amnesty International Israel, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Haqel, Akevot, Ir Amim, Peace Now, and Rabbis for Human Rights

On Monday on the beach at Ashkelon, dozens of Israeli activists, among them residents of areas adjacent to the Strip, released 150 paper lanterns into the sky to show solidarity with Gazans suffering under the cuts.

On Tuesday, the Women Wage Peace organization stated with regard to Gaza, "This pressure cooker of millions of people in dire straits, poverty, and now without electricity will explode. Our hearts are with the mothers, children, elderly, and youth - with people who want to live."

As for the Netanyahu government, it can go on blaming the PA for this. Or it can blame Hamas. But we will not be forgiven for this. Nor should we be.

Nor should we forgive ourselves. We have brought down on Gaza the plague of darkness.

This is a punishment which targets huge numbers of people who have committed no crime. This is an act of terrorism.

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