Gaza residents granted temporary reprieve from fuel crisis, but shortages still loom

P1070239_804447637.jpeg

The intensive care unit for infants at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City has been relying on power from diesel generators for up to 18 hours each day for weeks. There is no backup system. (Photo by Hamada Abu Qammar.)

It’s morning rush hour. A line of cars, taxis and trucks stretches down the street, block after block, outside a Gaza City gas station.

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

Drivers turn off their vehicles, stand outside and wait. In front of the station, people with big plastic fuel jugs jostle for a position in line. Hamas security men, with beards, navy blue jackets and AK-47s, stand guard in case tempers flare.

Standing next to a diesel pump, smoking a cigarette, a station attendant says the men with guns are here to keep things organized. This is a real crisis, he said.

There just isn’t enough fuel in Gaza to meet the demand.

“We have seen crisis before, but this time, it takes a long time,” one of the men said. “Almost more than three months.”

A few cars down the line, a taxi driver who identifies himself as Abu Mohammad said things are bad.

“It is definitely affecting our life, our kids, our family,” Mohammad said. “I spent five, six hours queuing and at the end, when I reach the cue, they say there is not enough fuel. Yesterday, I was looking at five petrol stations. I didn’t find fuel."

Mohammad said he got in line at 3 a.m. to try and get some fuel.

One reason for Gaza’s fuel shortage is in Egypt. Over the past couple of years, cheap Egyptian diesel and gasoline flowed into Gaza illegally through tunnels in the south.

But Egypt has its own fuel shortage, so authorities have been cracking down on fuel smuggling. And because Gaza’s only power plant runs on diesel, the fuel crisis has spread beyond the pump to the electrical grid.

For weeks now, power has been out for 18 hours a day across the Gaza Strip.

In the infants’ intensive care unit at al-Shifa Hospital, diesel generators fill the gap, powering the modern machines during blackouts. If the generators run out of fuel, the 13 babies here would not last very long.

As a precaution, the International Committee of the Red Cross this week started transferring emergency fuel supplies to Gaza hospitals. Dr. Hanan al-Wadiya said life for the 1.7 million people in Gaza amounts to going from one crisis to the next.

“Not our fault. We don’t know. But we always, always, always we pray to God,” al-Wadiya said. “It’s what we do. Pray. God help us, not the world. We didn’t depend on the world, on the Arabs, or on our government, or the government in Ramallah, or Israeli. We all depend on Allah.”

But Gaza’s power crisis is about money and politics. Hamas officials have blamed the West Bank Palestinian Authority for being stingy with fuel and greedy for tax revenue. The Fatah-controlled authority said Hamas wants fuel, but doesn’t always want to pay for it.

Khalil Abu Shammala, a human rights activist in Gaza City, said ultimately Israel is responsible for the humanitarian situation in Gaza because it still controls the borders.

But the rulers of Gaza, Abu Shammala said, have failed to live up to their responsibilities as well.

“I cannot listen or accept any justification from Hamas,” Shammala said. “Hamas is responsible. You control everything. You collect money and taxes. You should say to the people that, ‘We are ready to provide you the services opposite of these taxes.' ”

A spokesman for Hamas said Gaza’s rulers are suffering alongside their people. And he said the majority of the population still supports Hamas.

On Tuesday Egypt finally brokered an agreement between the two sides and Israel, which still controls most movement of goods in and out of the Gaza Strip. Hamas transferred money to the Palestinian Authority for a coupe days of fuel.

The authority used the funds to buy fuel from Israel, and it was shipped to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. If the arrangement can be sustained, it could drastically improve the quality of life in Gaza.

If not, the next crisis is right around the corner.