Gaza: Looming humanitarian catastrophe highlights need to lift Israel’s 10-year illegal blockade

The Israeli authorities’ latest decision to slash the electricity supply to the Gaza Strip could have catastrophic humanitarian consequences for residents who have already endured a decade of suffering under Israel’s brutal blockade, Amnesty International has warned.

The latest round of power cuts announced by Israel on 11 June restricting the electricity supply to between two and three hours a day, will have a disastrous impact on Gaza’s battered infrastructure and cause a public health disaster. The move will also endanger thousands of lives including those of hospital patients with chronic conditions or in intensive care, including babies on life support.

“For 10 years the siege has unlawfully deprived Palestinians in Gaza of their most basic rights and necessities. Under the burden of the illegal blockade and three armed conflicts, the economy has sharply declined and humanitarian conditions have deteriorated severely. The latest power cuts risk turning an already dire situation into a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

"The Israeli authorities must immediately lift the illegal blockade and end their collective punishment of Gaza’s population.”

Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International

The power cuts will have a severe impact on essential services such as healthcare, wastewater management and access to clean water for Gaza’s entire population.

“As the occupying power, Israel has obligations to ensure the basic needs of the civilian population are met. At the very least, Israel must not continue to cut off access to essential supplies. The Israeli authorities must immediately lift the illegal blockade and end their collective punishment of Gaza’s population,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

“Ten years on, the international community can no longer turn a blind eye to the devastating suffering caused by Israel’s cruel and inhuman isolation of Gaza.”

This month marks 10 years since Israel began its land, sea and air blockade of Gaza. The blockade, combined with restrictions by Egypt has cut off virtually all access to the outside world for more than two million residents. Since then, unemployment rates have skyrocketed and many families have been forced into extreme poverty leaving approximately 80% of the population dependent on humanitarian aid.

Electricity cuts

For more than a decade Gaza has suffered a chronic electricity deficit. In 2013, Gaza’s sole power plant began to buy fuel exclusively from Israel after cheap Egyptian fuel was no longer available. The higher price of fuel forced the

power plant to reduce capacity by half. The power plant has had to shut down repeatedly because it was unable to afford the fuel needed to keep it running.

Even before the latest power crisis this week, electricity supply was rationed to around eight hours a day. In the past two months, it was further slashed to four hours a day as a result of a dispute between Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Hamas before the latest cuts announced this week.

Residents told Amnesty International the power cuts have affected all aspects of their daily lives. With many people in Gaza living in high rise apartment buildings, the lack of electricity means clean water cannot be pumped to their homes, leaving them reliant on expensive bottled water to cook, clean and shower. Residents are also unable to use the lifts to get in and out of their homes, causing particular hardship for the elderly and those with disabilities.

Mohammad Abu Rahma, a Gaza City resident, described how the power cuts have affected him and his wife and three children. The lack of electricity means they have no water and cannot do simple things like use a fridge to store food and in the evening there is no light for the children to study or read.

“Ever since the [blockade] on Gaza 10 years ago our life has been in crisis. This is not new. But what is happening now…it is a catastrophe… It is immoral that they make us live like this. Everyone in Gaza has been harmed by what is happening. There is no one that is spared,” he said.

“This has meant having to live in this intolerable heat without fans, let alone air conditioners, and that’s for those of us who luckily still have our homes after the last war. It’s like we’re suffocating.”

Nour al-Sweiki, from Gaza City, told Amnesty International that families are struggling to squeeze all their domestic tasks into the three- hour window when the electricity comes on each day.

“People here live without rights… Everything is backwards. Nothing here progresses except for time. Poverty, unemployment, lack of water - everything is deteriorating."

Nour al-Sweiki, resident of Gaza City

“People here live without rights… Everything is backwards. Nothing here progresses except for time. Poverty, unemployment, lack of water - everything is deteriorating,” she said.

Another Gaza resident, Sami Abd al-Rahman, also said he and his family, like most Gazans, have reorganized their lives around the few hours of electricity –getting up in the middle of the night to do simple things such as use the washing machine or take showers. He fears for the mental and emotional effects the continuing crisis is having on his children.

“The Israeli authorities must ensure the level of electricity is restored to meet and sustain basic humanitarian needs, including health, water and sanitation,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

“The Palestinian authorities in the West Bank, Hamas and Israel must all ensure that their political disputes are not dealt with in a manner that tramples on the basic rights of Gazans.”

Wider impact of blockade

The situation in the Gaza Strip has become so untenable that in 2015 the UN warned it would become“uninhabitable” by 2020.

Under Israel’s illegal blockade, movement of people and goods is severely restricted and the majority of exports and imports, raw materials have been banned. Meanwhile, Egypt has imposed tight restrictions on the Rafah crossing, keeping it closed most of this time.

The destruction wrought by three armed conflicts between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip in the 10 years since the blockade was imposed has also had devastating consequences on essential infrastructure and the deterioration of Gaza’s economy. All sides have committed violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes during these conflicts.

In each of these wars, Israel targeted civilian infrastructure, including electricity, water, sewage and sanitation plants as well as destroying tens of thousands of civilian properties, including homes, shops and factories. Israel has subsequently refused to allow into Gaza much of the construction materials needed to rebuild the civilian infrastructure.

“The wanton destruction of Gaza’s residential homes and infrastructure coupled with the economic deprivation means that daily existence for many Palestinians there is a living nightmare with no end in sight,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

“There can be no justification for denying humanitarian supplies, adequate water and electricity to an entire population for 10 years. Israel must lift this blockade immediately.”