Gaza healthcare in melt-down as fuel runs out

May 11, 2017
Sarah Benton

In this  Jan. 15,  2017 photo a Palestinian family warm themselves with a fire outside their makeshift house during a power cut in a poor neighbourhood in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip. Photo by Khalil Hamra/ AP

Power crisis hits Gaza hospitals as Israel tightens siege on sick

By Charlotte Silver, Electronic Intifada
May 08, 2017

The humanitarian situation in Gaza is growing more dire against the dimming possibility of a reconciliation between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority controlled by Mahmoud Abbas, and the Islamist movement Hamas, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process has warned.

UNSCO says the friction between the competing Palestinian regimes that operate under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip “have aggravated an already difficult situation in the Gaza Strip.”

One consequence is that for the last three weeks, Gaza’s electricity crisis has become even more severe, forcing hospitals to curtail services in an attempt to preserve limited fuel supplies.

The World Health Organization warned that all of Gaza’s public hospitals may be forced to suspend critical services, putting thousands of lives at risk.

These growing tensions culminated on 27 April, when the Palestinian Authority decided that it would no longer pay for the electricity Gaza receives from Israel.

Hamas called the move “a grave escalation and an act of madness.”

“Gaza will not kneel for collaborators with the occupation,” Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesperson, posted on Twitter.

PA pressure on Hamas

The step is likely to be part of the PA’s decade-long effort to force Hamas to cede control in Gaza. Hamas won parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2006, but was never allowed to fully assume power over the Palestinian Authority.

A partially successful US-backed putsch led to the split, with Abbas remaining in control of the PA in the West Bank, and Hamas controlling the interior of Gaza.

The Abbas-controlled PA works closely with Israeli occupation forces, while Hamas has continued to engage in armed resistance.

In early April, Abbas said he would take “unprecedented steps in the coming days to end the division” between the West Bank and Gaza.

The PA imposed sharp salary cuts on civil servants there, leading to mass protests. But Rami Hamdallah, the PA prime minister in Ramallah, said, as the BBC reported, that “the salary cuts would stay in place until Hamas moved towards reconciliation.”

Last week, Hamas announced a new charter ditching anti-Jewish language and formally accepting, as Abbas does, a two-state solution with Israel.

It also announced on Saturday that Ismail Haniyeh, its former prime minister in Gaza, has been elected as the movement’s overall leader.

One Israeli analyst suggested in the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz that Abbas’ crackdown on Gaza was part of an attempt to keep Hamas isolated and to curry favor with the new US president. Abbas met Donald Trump at the White House last week.

Hospitals at “minimal capacity”

Meanwhile, Gaza’s economy has been devastated by a 10-year Israeli blockade and repeated military assaults.

In mid-April, Gaza’s only power plant ran out of fuel after a three-month supply funded by Turkey and Qatar was depleted.

The PA has refused Hamas’ requests to reduce or eliminate the heavy taxes on diesel that fuels Gaza’s power plant, a provision UNSCO supports.

Gaza receives just over half of its electricity from Israel which has until now been paid for by the Palestinian Authority.

“Palestinians in Gaza, who live in a protracted humanitarian crisis, can no longer be held hostage by disagreements, divisions and closures,” Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said.

Gaza is already operating on a severe energy deficit. Its daily supply of electricity from Israel, Egypt and its sole, partially functioning power plant totals only 210 megawatts, while the population of two million requires 450 megawatts per day.

The shortfall means that people in Gaza without backup generators must function with no electricity for 12 to 18 hours a day.

While international assistance has managed to barely keep hospitals open by ensuring they have enough fuel for generators, Gaza’s precarious situation is clear.

Hospitals are currently working “at minimal capacity,” the UN humanitarian coordination agency OCHA reported last month.

Another dire health and environmental consequence is that faced with a lack of energy for water treatment, waste plants are discharging more raw sewage into the sea.

No exit for many

Emergency fuel supplies are only guaranteed through May, forcing hospitals to postpone surgeries and refer more patients outside Gaza, potentially exposing them to life-threatening delays or Israeli attempts at blackmail.

According to UNSCO, since 15 September 2016, Israel has significantly reduced approvals for Palestinians to leave Gaza, including patients.

Last December, Israel approved fewer than 42 percent of applications to leave Gaza for medical care, the lowest rate since 2009, according to UNSCO.

Meanwhile, Egypt kept the Rafah crossing, the only outlet for most of Gaza’s residents, completely closed for the entire month of April.

Letting Israel off the hook

UNSCO acknowledges that Israel’s blockade is responsible for severe impairment in every sector in Gaza, including education, health and agriculture, and urges the “international community” to support the lifting of Israel’s siege.

Yet it still presents the closure as a security measure for Israel.

UNSCO notes that this year marks 10 years of Israel’s closure on Gaza, which UNSCO describes as a response to Hamas’ “violent” takeover in 2007.

Palestinian women hold banners during a protest calling for an end to intra-Palestinian political divisions that have aggravated the electricity crisis, outside the Gaza Strip’s sole functioning generating plant, 23 April. Photo by Ashraf Amra APA images

As well as ignoring the context of the intra-Palestinian fighting, this timeline ignores that the cut in exit permits began in the mid-1990s, sharply falling after Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza in 2005.

In the face of the evidence that its prospects have all but vanished, UNSCO continues to insist that the “international community” commit to a two-state solution.

It notes that in the occupied West Bank, Israel’s construction of illegal settlements has surged since last September while the land where Palestinians live is shrinking.

The report confirms that it is “virtually impossible” for Palestinians to obtain building permits in Area C of the West Bank – the 60 percent of the occupied West Bank over which Israel exercises full control. More than 90 percent of applications for building permits are rejected by Israeli occupation forces.

Meanwhile, Israel continues to develop settlements in Area C.

UNSCO acknowledges that Israel’s settlements violate international law, but pointedly fails to call for any sanctions or consequences.

“It is critical that recent international initiatives to advance the prospects for peace translate into a legitimate process to end the occupation and achieve a final settlement to the conflict,” UNSCO implores.

What UNSCO does not explain is how such a “process” would occur in the complete absence of measures to hold the occupying power accountable.

Power crisis leaves Gaza’s main hospital on the brink

More than two million people in Gaza, already living under a crippling Israeli blockade, facing massive power shortages.

By Al Jazeera
April 18, 2017

Gaza’s main hospital is on the verge of running out of fuel, doctors have warned, amid a deepening power crisis affecting more than two million people already living under a crippling Israeli blockade.

On Tuesday, the only functioning power plant in the Hamas-governed Palestinian territory shut down after running out of fuel, leaving Gaza residents with only six hours of electricity a day.

Gaza’s electricity company announced the total available power supply was less than a third of the territory’s daily consumption.

Gaza’s medical care crumbling under Israeli siege

Officials at the Al Shifa hospital on Tuesday said they had only two days of fuel left.

Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from the hospital, described the situation as bleak, especially in the renal dialysis ward where patients with severe kidney problems were being treated.

“These patients require the dialysis machines to work and the machines require electricity,” he said.

“It’s a very, very difficult time for them and patients are quite concerned about the fuel shortage.”

Fuel supply for Gaza’s inhabitants has been a long-running source of dispute. The power shortage is a result of a row between Hamas and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) over the cost of fuel.

Hamas buys fuel from the Fatah-dominated PNA in Ramallah. But fuel taxes are imposed, and Hamas said it could not afford to pay them.

Farah Baker ✔ @Farah_Gazan
No electricity throughout Gaza Strip 12:02am
10:03 PM – 14 Apr 2017

“The sufferings of the people in Gaza are increasing,” Khalil al-Hayya, a Hamas official, said.

“Gaza deserves to be protected by the Palestinian official government. Gaza deserves to be heard by everyone.”

In addition to the hospitals, it is also the houses, emergency services and schools that are affected by the electricity situation.

“The situation is getting worse and worse,” Gaza City resident Rami Kamouny said from his home, holding in his arms his young son, Mohammed, who suffers from severe handicaps and requires intensive care.

“The power cuts are creating more problems here, especially if you have a severely handicapped child whose life is connected to artificial respiratory systems.”

Corruption allegations

Protests broke out in January over the power shortages, which the Gaza health ministry said could have “dangerous consequences” for patients in hospitals.

The crisis was resolved by tax-free donations from Qatar and Turkey, which ran out last week. But now the PA is no longer willing to waive the fuel tax for Gaza.

“The taxes have been suspended for the past several months but those in charge in Gaza are pocketing money by not buying fuel,” Abdullah Abdullah, a member of the Revolutionary Council of the Fatah movement, said.

“The PNA, meanwhile, is paying for two sources of electricity – the one coming from Egypt and the one coming from Israel.”

‘Unliveable by 2020’

Following the power crisis, the United Nations has said Gaza could be uninhabitable by 2020.

Robert Piper, the UN coordinator in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said the relationship between Gaza City and Ramallah had to be fixed in order for the issues to be resolved.

“Electricity is such a key sector. It affects health, services, hospitals, sanitation, homes and businesses,” Piper told Al Jazeera.

“The business sector, already extremely vulnerable, is devastated by four hours of electricity per day. This has a knock-on effect on employment.

“A lot of responsibility has to be shared. We will go nowhere until the issues between Gaza City and Ramallah are solved.”

A Palestinian vendor uses battery-powered lights during a power cut at Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, April 25, 2017. Photo by Mohammed Salem/Reuters

At least 65 percent of residents in Gaza live in poverty, 72 percent are food-insecure, and 80 percent have grown dependent on international aid, according to a recent report published by the EU-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor.

Unemployment in the territory hit an unprecedented 43 percent in the last quarter of 2016.

A Fatah-led delegation is expected to travel to Gaza later this month to discuss reunification efforts with Hamas.

“Today we had about six hours of electricity at my house. Now it’s off for the next 12 hours,” Ezz Zanoun, a photographer in Gaza City, told Al Jazeera on Sunday.

“Tomorrow it might be worse. We’re expecting about four hours [of electricity] – and from there the real problems start.”

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