It has been a decade since Israel first enacted its inhumane siege of the Gaza Strip. Since then, Israel, Arab leaders, and Palestinian factions have all used the people of Gaza as pawns, leveraging their suffering for political gain. This summer, because of a man-made electricity crisis, the situation in Gaza is getting even worse.
Israel has always been the most responsible for Gaza’s suffering. Pre-state Zionist militias and later the Israeli military carried out the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947-48, creating Gaza’s massive refugee population. Israel then occupied the territory in 1967 and, following elections that put Hamas in power, placed it under blockade and siege in 2006. The siege was, and remains, the root of Gaza’s current dire circumstances.
In instituting and maintaining the siege, Israel’s goal has been to punish Gaza’s people until Hamas is removed. The siege, which stops exports from leaving the territory, has cost Gaza 95% of its industrial sector. Imports and travel to and from the territory have also been severely restricted. These restrictions have created an economic crisis that has caused unemployment, poverty, and food insecurity to skyrocket.
In 2012, the UN predicted that Gaza’s de-development, resulting from the siege and compounded by repeated military assaults, would make Gaza unlivable by 2020. Last week, the UN revealed that conditions were deteriorating further and faster than they had predicted in 2012, meaning that Gaza may be unlivable even sooner than 2020.
Ten years after the siege began, Israel’s political goals still have not been achieved. Hamas remains in power, and is perhaps even more entrenched than ever. Despite all this, Israel refuses to end its Gaza policy, which historian Ilan Pappe has called an “incremental genocide.”
But Israel is not the only guilty party when it comes to Gaza. The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas, and Egypt have all been far too willing to sacrifice Gaza for their own political ends. Since Hamas’s 2007 seizure of the territory, a power struggle has been raging with the West Bank-based Fatah. Each rival authority has cracked down on internal dissent, arrested members of the opposing faction, and stifled attempts at democratic expression.
Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt has also sought to exploit Gaza. Treating Hamas as a branch of his hated political rival, the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi has tried to squeeze the Gaza-based authority since he took power in 2014. With minor exceptions, he has upheld Israel’s siege and kept the Rafah border crossing closed.
Over the spring and summer, these feuds came to a head. In an effort to reclaim the control it lost in 2007 after its failed coup attempt, the PA began instituting numerous sanctions on the besieged territory in early 2017. These include withholding medical supply transfers, denying travel documents to sick patients, cutting salaries of the PA’s Gaza-based employees, and cutting electricity payments.
The electricity cuts have been especially painful. Even before the crisis, Gaza received less than half of the electricity it needed. Now, in the dead of summer, with hot weather and high humidity, Gazans are only receiving two to four hours of electricity per day.
Without electricity, there is no air conditioning. Without A/C, the nights are too hot to sleep. Without power, water pumps cannot function, compounding the already dire water crisis in the territory. Sewage infrastructure is also running far below capacity, which pollutes Gaza’s sea and raises the risk of disease. Already reliant on generators, hospitals are rationing emergency fuel and turning away patients, setting the stage for a public health crisis.
Egypt offered to help (after it also cut electricity to Gaza) in exchange for security concessions from Hamas. But, the PA has blocked this arrangement by stopping payments to Egypt from Gaza’s electricity authority for Egyptian fuel.
Precious few political gains have come from this collective punishment. Instead, Gaza’s people have paid the price. It is time for this punishment to end.