Extended blackouts are part of daily reality in Gaza. We have adjusted in recent years to a cycle of eight hours with electricity, then eight hours without while other neighborhoods get electricity. Now, even this routine seems a luxurious, distant dream. Over the past two weeks, the supply has been cut to four hours, followed by 12 hours disconnected.
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Anyone living outside Gaza has perhaps heard about the problem, which gets worse in winter. Perhaps they also know about the constant shortage of diesel fuel, which interrupts operation of the only power plant; about the frequent problems in the lines coming in from Israel and Egypt; about the collapse of the already fragile grid under the onus of tens of thousands seeking to operate their electric water heaters, ovens, water pumps, washing machines, computers, televisions for their children and phone chargers.
And yet I understand that someone living even a few kilometers from Gaza has a hard time imagining life without a reliable source of energy. So let me share some recent experiences. When the shortage got worse, two Fridays ago, I waited for electricity to quickly turn on all the appliances. The washing machine, for example, was always full in advance. However, the moment I hit the water-heating switch, there was a short. An electrician came the next day and told me I had to replace something. I bought the part. When the electricity returned, I approached the switch ready to celebrate. Again the fuse blew. The electrician returned on Sunday and suggested I also call in a plumber. There was apparently a problem with the water-heater cables.
Professionals came on Monday with the electricity. They checked and confirmed that I really needed to replace the cable, which had burned out because there was no water in the tank when I had turned it on. By the time they fixed the problem, the electricity was cut off again. Now we have to wait for the power to return to operate the water pumps, which will push the water into the container at the entrance of the building, and from there to a container on the roof. Only then will it be possible to fill the water-heating tank. Only then will we know if the problem was solved. My wife, our children and I only enjoyed a hot shower on Tuesday.
I started to cry that evening. My children are Yusuf, six, and Karim, five. I don’t know exactly why, perhaps because of the bitter cold or because of the growing tension at home since the electricity shortage began, but they have wet their beds a number of times. The little one comes to our bed at night, and he wet the bed again. There was no hot water. There was no electricity. It was deathly cold. My wife and I switched sheets by the light of a space heater operated by cooking gas. We wanted to change our children’s clothes, but the flashlight battery had emptied out and it was impossible to see what was in the closet.
We groped in the darkness, trying to figure out which piece of clothing we were feeling and who it fit. After several long moments of confusion, we grasped how ridiculous the situation was, and we broke out laughing hysterically.
After the saga ended, around 3 A.M., I lit a cigarette and extinguished it immediately. I couldn’t smoke from all the frustration and pressure. I returned to bed and found Karim there. He insisted on sleeping with us. When he had asked me, earlier that day, “Why is there no electricity?” I felt a chest pain. I didn’t know what to tell him. I couldn’t fall asleep the rest of the night, fighting back the tears.
There wasn’t enough water in the morning to shower, so I got dressed and sprayed on a lot of cologne. I got into the car and turned on the radio to hear the news, hoping to hear that those responsible for this situation had regained their composure.
The writer is a resident of Gaza and a field worker for Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.