Gaza electricity crisis: ‘It is the worst I can remember but we expect it to get worse’

Move by Mahmoud Abbas to cut electricity to 2-4 hours a day in escalation of row with Hamas is affecting quality of life for Gazans

In Imad Shlayls electronics shop in Gaza City, the customers crowding his store are interested in only two products: LED lights and the batteries to power them.

In the already impoverished Gaza Strip, residents have learned to adapt to the fact that electricity is only available for between two and four hours a day.

But fresh anger was sparked when availability was cut further last month, at the request of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in an escalation of his conflict with Hamas, the Islamist group that wrested control of the Gaza strip from forces loyal to Abbas 10 years ago.

The shortages have defined how people live their lives: getting up in the middle of the night, if there is power, to run washing machines or turn on water pumps.

Only the wealthy few have frequent, long-lasting access to electricity to power lights and fans and fridges, televisions and wifi routers, in Gazas stifling summer heat.

We used to sell all sorts of things, says Shlayl. But its different these days. All we sell is batteries and chargers. Because the crisis is so deep we are selling 100 batteries a day when normally we would sell 20.

Gaza electricity crisis explainer

Gaza requires 430 megawatts of power to meet daily demand, but receives only half that. Sixty megawatts are supplied by its solitary power station, now short on fuel, while the rest is supplied by Israel and funded by Abbass West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA).

Abbass move to cut supplies to Gaza, which is already under a joint Israeli and Egyptian blockade now in its 11th year has quickly made him a hate figure among many Gazans, who question why he is punishing 2 million fellow Palestinians in what appears to be an attempt to force Hamas to relinquish control of the territory.

Though business is good for Shlayl, he is angry at the fresh shortages faced by Gazans that affect all areas of life, from hospital emergency wards to clean water supplies.

Ive not done anything to be punished by anyone. It is the worst I can remember but we are expecting it to get worse and worse, he said. Not just electricity, but other things as well. We are in a very deep descent.

As well as cutting electricity, the PA has cut salaries for its employees in Gaza by upwards of 30% , prompting thousands to protest on the streets of Gaza city.

Residents also blame Abbas for a backlog in processing the medical referral process for those needing to travel out of Gaza for treatment, although who is at fault in that issue is less clear cut.

The problems facing Gaza where high levels of unemployment are endemic is most obvious in the poorest areas.

In Gaza Citys al-Shati refugee camp, home to the head of Hamass political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, whole housing blocks were dark, while in others only a handful of windows were weakly illuminated.

In the one-room kiosk selling pigeons and chickens that he manages, just off the camps main market, Ayman Nasser, 32, is sitting on the street with his friends in search of a sea breeze.

His face is illuminated by the light of his mobile phone. He has one battery-powered light burning in his shop.

Part of the problem is that we dont have any news. Who should we blame for this? Hamas, Israelis, Abbas? he said.

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A Palestinian girl reads by candlelight due to a power cut at the Jabalia camp in Gaza City. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

His friend, Ashraf Kashqin, interrupts: It is all connected to politics, but it is us who is getting played by the two sides.

If there is a question that all the Palestinians in Gaza are asking, it is what the ageing and remote Abbas hopes to achieve, not least whether he hopes the cuts will lead to an insurrection against Hamas following demonstrations linked to the power supply in January.

While a senior official in the Fatah-led government on the West Bank said last month that the aim behind the move by the PA which has been paying $12m (9m) a month for the electricity Israel supplies to Gaza was to dry up Hamass financial resources, others are dubious about the timing, the motive and the real impact.

Among them are human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, who have warned it could turn Gazas long-running crisis into a major disaster already hitting hospitals and waste treatment plants.

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, of the group.

Then there is the question of timing. Abbas is probably the only one who knows why he is doing this to Gaza, adds Mohameir Abu Sada, a political science professor at Al Azhar University and analyst.

I honestly dont buy what he has been saying for the last three months: that he will take exceptional measures against Hamas to put pressure on it to give up control of the Gaza Strip.

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Staff in Imad Shlayls electronics shop in Gaza City test a battery storage system, a popular product in the midst of Gazas worst electricity crisis in recent memory. Photograph: Peter Beaumont for the Guardian

I dont buy it because it does not explain why he waited 10 years to put pressure like this on Hamas?

Honestly speaking, if he had done it in the first few months, the split would have been resolved. And now Abbas is not punishing Hamas he is punishing 2 million Palestinians. I mean, Hamas leaders have giant generators. It is the poor people who are suffering.

Another thing that does not make sense is, how do you explain cutting salaries to the people who are supposed to be most loyal to the Palestinian Authority and Abbas. The same people who have been arrested and tortured by Hamas?

Sada is also dubious whether Abbass extreme measure against Gaza can work, pointing to the fact that Hamas has survived a decade of blockade and three wars with Israel.

Gazas
Gazas solitary power plant for its 2 million residents, which has been running at a fraction of its capacity. Photograph: Peter Beaumont for the Guardian

Every time Hamas is under pressure they are able to invent new ways to go around the siege, he said. This is not a productive way against Hamas. If he thinks Palestinians in Gaza will revolt against Hamas, then Abbas is mistaken.

Taher al-Nounou, an adviser to Haniyeh, suggested the electricity crisis had been engineered largely to distract attention from Abbass own failures.

Abbas wants to create a hostile environment against Hamas in Gaza, but he has failed in this. [His first motive] is the failure of his political path during the last 11 years because no one is asking him what he has achieved in 11 years for the Palestinian people.

He believes Abbass latest moves will only bring further woes for his fellow Palestinians.

If, in the past, you asked ordinary people here who was responsible for the difficulties in Gaza, people would have said Israel or Hamas or maybe Abbas. Now if you ask theyll say Abbas.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/10/gaza-electricity-crisis-it-is-the-worst-i-can-remember-mahmoud-abbas

The Salesman wins best foreign language Oscar

Protest vote against Donald Trumps travel ban suspected to be partly behind Iranian director Asghar Farhadis surprise victory

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has won the best foreign language Oscar in Los Angeles, for a second time, for domestic drama The Salesman. Farhadi, 44, did not attend the ceremony because he said that the conditions that would be attached to a potential entry visa were unacceptable.

The director had originally planned to travel to Hollywood for the prize-giving to highlight the unjust circumstances that have arisen for the immigrants and travellers of several countries to the United States.

The surge in votes for his film was thought by some to be a registration by Oscar voters of a protest against Donald Trumps travel ban, which aimed to prevent people coming to the US from seven Muslim-majority countries. On Sunday evening in London, a free screening of The Salesman was introduced by London mayor Sadiq Khan.

Until the ramifications of the ban for film-makers such as Farhadi became clear, Germanys Toni Erdmann had been the strong favourite to take the prize. The other nominees were Land of Mine (Denmark), Tanna (Australia) and A Man Called Ove (Sweden).

The Salesman premiered at Cannes last May, where it won best actor for Shahab Hosseini and best screenplay for Farhadi despite moderate notices from critics. The film follows a couple in Tehran involved in an amateur dramatic production of Arthur Millers The Salesman, who are forced to move apartments following an earthquake. But the flat into which they move has an unhappy history, compounded by an unwelcome intruder.

Farhadi won Irans first Oscar for his film A Separation in 2012. This second award puts him in an elite category of double-winners in the category, including Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman.

Irans first person in space, Anousheh Ansari, read out a statement from Farhadi at the podium: My absence is out of respect for the people of my country, and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the US.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/feb/27/the-salesman-wins-best-foreign-language-oscar-asghar-farhadi