Powerless in Gaza, Residents Rely on Tunnels

GAZA - Since yesterday morning, Gaza City has gone back to readying for long blackouts. In the Tel el Hawa neighborhood in the southern part of the city, the electricity went out at 8 a.m. When children came home from school, the lights had still not come back on. When their parents returned from work, the electricity was still out.

The parents had to climb six stories with baskets from the market; even when the lights are working, it's best not to use the elevators, because you never know when the power will be cut. The sun set, and 8-year-old Karim told his father it would not be his fault if he couldn't study for his English test, and brought home a 98 instead of 100 (he had been promised NIS 20 for a perfect score).

In the center of the Gaza evening, car headlights cut the darkness on Omar al Mukhtar Boulevard, the Champs Elysees of Gaza City.

On November 5, Israel closed all crossings into Gaza and stopped the fuel supply, including industrial fuel. The Gaza power station can supply 80 megawatts a day, but needs 3.15 million liters of industrial fuel a week to do so. Starting January 17, however, Israel began reducing the supply, and the power station only gets 2.5 million liters a week.

Yesterday morning, the power station shut down one unit out of three. Yesterday night, on the assumption that the power supply would not be renewed by midnight, the station was planning on shutting down the second unit, and the third this morning. If the crossings are not opened, and Israel does not renew the fuel supply, Gaza will feel it immediately.

People here do not depend on miracles. The Tel el Hawa grocery store ran out of candles shortly after people realized their refrigerator had stopped running. Even the big supermarket in the exclusive Rimal neighborhood had no candles by the end of the morning. In the afternoon, a package of Egyptian candles came through the tunnels. A shekel a candle, but an hour and a half later, by sunset, the price had quadrupled.

A more creative solution: Use a car battery with USB cables - that gives enough electricity for a few lights in the important places in the house.

The mild weather means the demand for electricity is relatively low: 220 megawatt a day, not 240. Last week, a few days of rain and cold drove up the demand, with the outages starting right away. Even on "normal days" when the crossings are open, the power supply is only 202 megawatt per day - 65 from Gaza, 120 purchased from Israel and 17 from Egypt. Some of the latter quantity, which comes through Rafah, operates the generators in the tunnels, for digging, light and moving merchandise, coming at the expense of electricity to homes.

The gap between supply and demand means that neighborhoods must wait their turn for electricity, with breaks of a few hours in between.

This is another opportunity to bless the existence of the tunnels. Egyptian diesel fuel costs NIS 2.50 a liter, while Israeli diesel costs NIS 4. Those who have generators at home can find diesel at the gas stations (which now have one Israeli pump and one Egyptian pump).