On May 11, Israel’s security cabinet decided to cut the electricity that Israel supplies to Gaza by 40%. Gaza currently receives less than half of its daily electricity requirements. Its only internal power plant shut down in April and the power lines that connect it to Egypt have often been shut down due to technical issues. These significant cuts to Gaza’s most reliable energy source will have a devastating effect on the besieged and increasingly isolated territory.
The cut by Israel actually came at the behest of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA initially announced in April that it intended to stop paying for the electricity Israel provides to Gaza. Senior PA and Israeli officials have said the goal of the cut is to undermine the Hamas government in Gaza. As I wrote at the time of that announcement, the PA’s decision demonstrates a willingness to adopt Israel’s strategy vis-à-vis Gaza, namely, to punish Gaza’s people for political gain.
The results of these new cuts will be disastrous for Gaza. Blackouts will likely stretch to twenty-one or twenty-two hours per day. According to Ma’an News, the head of public relations at Gaza’s electricity company, Muhamad Thabet, has warned of “dangerous consequences and crises in numerous sectors – particularly health, education, and services – if the electricity supply is reduced,” and urged Gazans to conserve electricity usage to avert a “collapse” of daily life.
The health sector is particularly vulnerable. In addition to cutting electricity funding, the PA has cut the transfer of medical aid, resulting in a denial of treatment for hundreds of cancer and cystic fibrosis patients. Gaza is also severely lacking in essential medicine and medical equipment due to Israel’s blockade.
The electicity cuts will compound this already dire public health situation. Waste and drinking water will no longer be treated, which will likely lead to the spread of disease. Damaged sewage pumps will result in sewage flowing through Gaza’s streets. Already forced to close entire wings during blackouts, hospitals will be even more reliant on generators and diesel fuel, which would create shortages.
The ongoing Gulf Crisis has also exacerbated Gaza’s situation. Qatar has close ties with Hamas and has previously stepped in to provide fuel and aid to the territory. Facing an Arab embargo, Qatar is ill-equipped to come to Gaza’s assistance this time. In fact, at the start of the crisis, it asked Hamas leaders to leave the country.
Ignoring Israel’s devastating invasions and crippling blockade on Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the crisis as an “internal Palestinian matter,” according to Haaretz. Israel’s only concern regarding the crisis is its own security. Seeking to weaken Hamas and having determined there is little chance of a military escalation despite the drastic cuts, the Israeli government is happy to aid the PA in squeezing Gaza’s long-suffering people.
The PA and Israel are not alone in seeking to exploit Hamas’ weakness for political gain. Strongly opposed to Hamas’ control of Gaza under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt informed Gaza’s electricity company on Monday that it too would be cutting its supply of electricity. It has since reportedly offered to supply Gaza with power on the condition Hamas make security concessions, including turning over several wanted suspects to Egypt and collaborating more closely on policing of the Gaza-Sinai border.
While the power crisis and international isolation may weaken Hamas’ position in Gaza, the real victims of this political posturing are Gaza’s people. For more than a decade, Palestinian, Arab, and Israeli leaders have strategically manipulated Gaza’s humanitarian situation for political advantage. With this latest twist of the knife, things will only get worse.