Powerless in Gaza

As if Gaza didn’t have enough problems, the Israeli government's continuing policy of limiting power to the Strip increasingly affects the ability for journalists to get the story out, our Gaza correspondent reports.
© Naji El Ali

GAZA CITY, Feb. 25, 2008 (MENASSAT) – The electricity crisis started on June 28, 2006, when the Israeli forces bombed the only power plant in Gaza, which supplied 80 megawatts out of about 240 megawatts that are needed to keep Gaza lit up. Since that day, Gaza has been reliant on electricity bought from Israel (120 megawatts) and Egypt (17 megawatts). The result has been constant power cuts sometimes lasting for as many as 36 hours.

Last summer, after months of suffering and a great deal of international pressure, things were slowly getting back to normal and the electricity situation in Gaza was stabilizing. In June, Hamas fought factions loyal to Fatah and gained complete control over Gaza. Darkness descended on the Strip once more as Israel started using the electricity supply to Gaza as a means to apply pressure on Hamas. With that a new chapter of suffering started for the people in the Gaza strip, and it continues until today.

The electricity crisis has also had a huge impact on the work conditions for journalists in Gaza, especially those who work with international media outlets.

As a reporter for Sawa Radio, it is imperative for me to stay up to date with events in Gaza. The power outages have made this increasingly hard, especially in the evenings when I am unable to stay informed about developing news stories or to file my reports over FTP (File Transfer Protocol). So often I have to resort to writing my story by hand and by candle light, and then get the station to call me back so I can dictate my story to them over the phone.

There is a famous saying: "necessity is the mother of invention." In Gaza electricians have been creative in finding solutions for the electricity crisis. They charge car batteries when the power is on, then connect them to small generators which can produce electricity for two or three hours when the power is off.

But these electrical "band-aids," which I have been forced to buy, are made of imported supplies that have also been targeted by Israel; they put a stop to the sale and import of car batteries to Gaza in recent months. So my emergency power system, all $300 of it, is now useless.

Predictably, the power cuts also interfere with communications. Palestine's cellular phone network, Jawwal, starts weakening when the electricity is cut off. Many times, I am obliged to call the same person dozens of times because of drop-offs, or because of bad lines or the presence of so-called "dark spots."

What has angered people the most, is that the power cuts increased during the cold periods, because of the Israeli decision to gradually cut the electricity by half a mega watt per week, which has made it increasingly difficult  – and ultimately impossible – to stay warm in Gaza, at a time when it is experiencing the coldest weather in fifty years.

We also worry about the secondary effects of the power crisis on the general health situation in the Strip.

Whenever the power at the water sanitation plants is cut, dirty water is allowed to sink into the ground water and the sea. I wonder, Is the water still safe to drink? Has the pollution reached my neighborhood yet?

Many of these worries are the same for journalists and ordinary citizens alike. But as a journalist, the electricity crisis adds yet another worry because journalists act as the witness to the situation.

Indeed, it is the right of those who are poor and destitute in Gaza to have someone who can relate their story to the outside world. But at the moment I am often subject to the same woes as the people I am reporting on.

In the end, I am a journalist in Gaza, with no way to get the story out.