Thousands of Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip have taken to the streets several times in recent weeks to protest against the severe shortage of electricity which affects every aspect of their life; even hospitals, schools and nurseries for new-born babies are not spared.
Electricity is needed throughout the year, but in winter it takes on a new importance. Gaza gets very cold and there are still too many Palestinians in the territory who remain homeless more than two years after the 2014 Israeli offensive, during which Israel’s armed forces destroyed tens of thousands of homes as well as the enclave’s infrastructure, including electricity, water purification and sewage facilities.
Two weeks ago, a new-born baby was reported to have frozen to death in Gaza; his parents simply could not keep their home warm enough to save him. At best the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip only have electricity for four hours a day; on some days it can be as little as two hours a day. This has happened to my own home several times during the current cold snap.
The people of Gaza, therefore, have every right to go onto the streets in protest at the fuel shortage. No one denies them the right to demonstrate and express their anger to the world. However, a problem does arise when the suffering of the people is used as an excuse to wage a campaign against the security services in the Gaza Strip and carry out attacks against public buildings, even though security personnel police the protests to make them safe, and protect public property. That is, after all, one aspect of their many duties.
On Thursday evening, though, the demonstrators attempted to throw stones at the electricity company building in the middle of the Gaza Strip. The security services imposed a cordon around the site and prevented any damage; meanwhile, they pushed the protesters back to a safe distance.
In the city of Jabalia, in the north of the Gaza Strip, demonstrators gathered around the security services HQ and started to throw stones, damaging the building and posing a danger to the people inside. The police tried peaceful means to stop them, but when they refused to disperse, officers used batons and fired sound bullets into the air; they did not resort to tear gas.
Although no injuries were reported, an AFP photographer and AP reporter were among the crowd and were apparently hit once or twice, according to an interior ministry spokesman. A number of people were arrested and then released after a couple of hours.
The wave of anger against the security services in Gaza — which are run by Hamas — followed other verbal and media attacks on the resistance movement and its security services in the Gaza Strip after the detention of the controversial comedian Adel Al-Mashwakhi from Rafah. The campaign against Hamas involves all of the secular and leftist Palestinian factions, and Palestinian Authority officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamadallah. Even the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, has criticised the movement. Israeli officials who are the main cause of the electricity crisis have kept quiet.
Some clarification is needed if we are to understand what is happening in the Gaza Strip which is, after all, under an Israeli-led blockade, and has been for ten years.
Who is really to blame for the electricity crisis? Without doubt, this can be laid at the door of the Israeli occupation authorities, which have been besieging the Gaza Strip since mid-2007. In fact, the strict sea, ground and air siege really began in 2006, when Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections and tried to form a government. That year, Israel and the international community, which had asked some Arab states to put pressure on Hamas to take part in the elections, rejected the result when the Islamic movement won.
When the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority led by Abbas and supported by Israel and the West ousted Hamas in the occupied West Bank, the siege thereon was lifted. However, when a faction within Abbas’s Fatah movement, led by Mohammed Dahlan and with financial backing from Israel and the US, tried to overthrow Hamas in Gaza and were defeated in June 2007, the siege of Gaza was extended and tightened by Israel, the international community and Egypt. This affected all aspects of life: medicine, food, water, construction materials, electricity, industry, fuel, vehicles, fishing; everything. Palestinians were prevented from entering and leaving the territory, while imports and exports were controlled tightly by Israel.
Furthermore, Israel’s regular military incursions — and three major offensives since 2007 — have destroyed the infrastructure, including Gaza’s sole electricity generating plant.
What is the role of Hamas in the crisis? It is a resistance movement; Palestine, some people seem to forget, is under a brutal military occupation. International law gives people under occupation the right to resist that occupation by all means possible; that’s the law. Nevertheless, although Hamas has used suicide bombings — “martyrdom operations” — in the past, none have taken place since the siege was imposed. Indeed, ever since its election win in 2006, Hamas has not carried out any military ground operations against occupation forces beyond the Gaza Strip. It has, of course, resisted Israel’s military offensives against the Palestinian civilians in Gaza. The leadership of the movement has offered Israel a long-term truce on a number of occasions, which the Israelis have rejected.
Hamas believes in the democratic transition of power and has pledged to accept the result of any new elections if the international community can guarantee that they will be free and fair, as they were in 2006. It is not, though, prepared to step down voluntarily from its de facto governance of the Gaza Strip without such a guarantee in place; its legitimacy is, after all, stronger than that of Mahmoud Abbas, whose term of office was supposed to end in 2009.
It is obvious that the Israelis are using the secularist and leftist Palestinian factions to blame Hamas for Israel’s siege and associated crises; divide and rule is an old colonialist tactic. The electricity crisis is linked directly to the siege and yet the factions are turning against Hamas, which has not rejected proposals to solve the problem, as has been reported.
Furthermore, as the occupying power, Israel has the legal and moral responsibility to look after the people living under its occupation; legally, this still applies to the Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip as much as it does to those in the West Bank. Even if the PA is unable to pay for it, Israel has a duty to supply electricity to the people of Gaza, as it does in the West Bank. The Israeli government might threaten to cut electricity supply to the West Bank for political purposes, but it does not do so. As far as Gaza is concerned, however, it is maintaining its occupation (by controlling all of the borders and blockading sea and air space) yet refuses to accept its legal duties as the occupying power. How can Hamas be blamed for this? What on earth are the secularists and leftists playing at?
Several countries, including Qatar, the UAE and Turkey, have proposed to solve the Gaza electricity crisis at their expense, but the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas has refused this solution, at Israel’s behest. While no Israeli government official has commented on the unrest in Gaza, it is clear that there is a concerted effort being made to stir up public opinion against Hamas, which has been the goal of the Israelis, Abbas and his PA and the international community since 2007.
Despite all of this, the security services in Gaza have been making the coastal enclave one of the safest civic spaces in the world for its citizens (Israeli incursions and offensives excepted); nobody in Gaza, including Fatah officials, can deny this if they are honest. As a result, turning against Hamas is almost taboo for most Palestinians within Gaza, who lived with insecurity for years under the PA and Fatah security services. The eighteen months before Hamas took full control of Gaza are unforgettable as far as the Gazans are concerned.
It apparently only took the two journalists to be touched during the demonstrations, and a few protesters to be detained, for the secularists and leftists to turn their ire on Hamas, when they must know that it is the Israelis to whom their anger should be directed. Instead, they accuse the Islamic movement of suppressing freedom of movement and expression. The fact that the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process has fallen for this bogus campaign is shameful. Nickolay Mladenov and the Palestinian factions should have looked at the problem which pushed the people to demonstrate and solve it by putting pressure on the Israeli occupation authorities, not use a minor infringement committed by Hamas and its security services to make a major problem of it while forgetting about the real issue at hand — the Israeli occupation and siege.
It is the injustice demonstrated by the international community — including the UN — and the Palestinian factions which has no real legitimacy with ordinary Palestinians; this was made clear by the 2006 election results and makes the Israelis, the PA and the West fear new elections. As such, we must not betray the Palestinians in Gaza again by reporting non-stories while ignoring the real crises and those responsible for them. There is a humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Gaza Strip, for which the blame lies with Israel and its siege, not Hamas. We should not forget