‘The current crisis didn’t begin in 2017, and can’t be viewed in separation from a decade of closure.’

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Israeli non-profit Gisha and blogger, activist and independent cross-party consultant on Israel-Palestine Gary Spedding respond to a recent statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in regard to the Palestinian electricity crisis. Both point out that, in Gisha’s words, the Minister’s response ‘completely disregards Israel’s responsibility for the current situation and its complicity, given that it is Israel with its hand on the switch.’

On the 20th of June the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade wrote this in response to questions asked about the electricity crisis in Gaza:
“Israel is not the primary actor in this dispute over electricity supplies to Gaza, which is primarily one between the Palestinian Authority and the de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza, who still control the Strip. For some years Hamas has charged customers in Gaza for electricity supplied from Israel, but refused to pass these revenues to the Palestinian Authority, which pays Israel to supply the electricity. No government can be expected to tolerate this situation indefinitely.
The Palestinian Authority has decided to reduce the amount of electricity it pays Israel to supply to Gaza, and the reported decision by Israel to reduce electricity supply is a consequence of that.
Notwithstanding the basis for the problem, the humanitarian consequences for Gaza will obviously be potentially very severe, and may arise very quickly. Mains electricity supply, already averaging only four hours per day following the shutdown in April of the only power plant in Gaza due to a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas over fuel supplies, is expected to be cut to as little as two hours per day. Additional power can only be provided by generators, which are not designed to run full time and for which fuel is in any case short. The consequences not just for household supply, but for pumping of water and sewage, and supplies to hospitals, schools and other utilities, are obvious.
I call clearly for all parties who have a part in this issue the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Israel to act promptly and realistically to resolve this dispute, in the interests of the people of Gaza. Ultimately, full responsibility for electricity supply and billing in Gaza should be in the hands of the Palestinian Authority.
Above and beyond these issues, there are also the wider questions of the overall restrictions on Gaza, including the delays in admitting materials to repair the Gaza power plant. Primary responsibility for these problems, which have already made living conditions in Gaza extremely difficult, does rest with Israel, and I repeat the consistent call of the European Union for the lifting of restrictions on Gaza.” – Simon Coveney 20th June 2017.

Gisha have kindly analysed this statement from the Minister and provided the following response:

The response echoes Netanyahu’s sentiment that the electricity crisis is an internal Palestinian issue, completely disregarding Israel’s responsibility for the current situation and its complicity, given that it is Israel with its hand on the switch.
It is important not to Israel’s role and challenge its self-proclaimed bystander status. Perhaps it’d be useful to refer to our letter to Lieberman, which addresses this point:

This severe deficit developed throughout the years of Israel’s direct and indirect control over the Strip. Despite the implementation of the Disengagement Plan in 2005, Israel continues to control many aspects of life in Gaza. Israel is not just a service provider, responding neutrally to a client’s request. Given its extensive control over life in the Strip, Israel is responsible for enabling normal life for its residents. Israel is obligated to find solutions that will allow for the continued supply of electricity at existing capacity, and to take active steps toward increasing supply, to allow residents access to acceptable living conditions.

The collective responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, the de-facto Hamas government in Gaza, Egypt, and the international community for the dire state of Gaza’s infrastructure does not diminish Israel’s marked accountability for the situation. As senior political and military figures in Israel have stated, particularly since 2014, improving living conditions in Gaza and supporting economic development are also square within Israel’s interests. In practice, Israel’s policy of restrictions on Gaza contradicts its self-professed interests, putting the region as a whole at risk of another unnecessary round of hostilities.

Israel is not the only actor, but it is certainly one of the primary actors who have contributed to the situation, specifically given that the current crisis as a direct result of the dire infrastructure situation. The current crisis didn’t begin in 2017, and it cannot be viewed in separation from a decade of closure.

Gary Spedding, an independent cross-party consultant on Israel-Palestine has this to say about the Minister’s statement:
I think it’s also crucial to address the Minister’s assertion that it is Hamas who still control the Strip. While Hamas is the de facto government, to ignore Israel’s continued control is ridiculous, and we have about 50 facts that challenge that assertion.
In addition to the advice and analysis from Gisha, I wish to provide a brief note:

First, I think that there is an utterly nonsensical expectation to talk about internal Palestinian disputes and politics as though they exist in a vacuum and are totally divorced from the reality of Israel’s military occupation and siege. Politicians around the world need to stand up and refuse to treat/view the callous, petty and dangerous gamesmanship between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as simply an internal Palestinian issue. Palestinian children are dying in Gaza because the PA and Israel won’t allow them into the West Bank to receive much needed medical treatment. The PA is creating human tragedy just so that it might dethrone Hamas. Israel, meanwhile, accedes to Abbas’ demands. Israel is the sovereign between the river and the sea. It has the power to say no to Abbas and continue supplying the much needed electricity to Gaza and recoup the costs at a later stage.

I will add that Gisha have put together a series of FAQs in relation to Gaza’s electricity crisis which can be found here.

The issue here is about what politicians in Ireland are willing to do about the fact that Gaza lives on between 2.5 – 4.0 hours of electricity per day. Palestinians are literally dying in hospitals in Gaza as a result of there being no electricity. We also cannot ignore that in 2012 Israel’s then Minister for environmental protection, Gilad Erdan (Likud), demanded the government cut electricity to Gaza in the height of summer. It should also be noted that back in 2016 the Palestinian Finance Ministry in Ramallah informed (Hebrew) Gisha that Gaza’s electricity bill is settled unilaterally – this is because Israel has control over the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA. Israel only informs the Palestinians afterwards that the money has been deducted. This undoes the claim that it is a PA decision to withhold the payment money as Israel already has the funds. Be under no illusion that Israel could simply refuse the PA request to cut electricity as the sovereign/occupying power and thus help to avoid a humanitarian disaster unfold in Gaza. Collectively punishing the people of Gaza will only create further instability and violence.

I would urge colleagues to consider that Israel’s decision to cut electricity supply to Gaza is part of a long-term strategy designed to make the Gaza strip unliveable and thus make life impossible for Palestinians. You can also read more about the silent war on Gaza’s hospitals here. Reports that a humanitarian crisis looms are also available here. There is also an important piece of analysis here detailing how ordinary Gazan’s (protected peoples under the law of belligerent occupation) are being held hostage by Israeli and Palestinian Authority gamesmanship.