Hamas-Fatah divide turns the lights out on Gazans
Deep distrust between Hamas and Fatah, which are due for another round of reconciliation talks next week, has led to a dispute over who should pay the electricity bill.
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A spokesman for the Fatah government in Ramallah says that much of Gaza's fuel is paid for by the PA and Dor Alon confirmed that payment for fuel for Gaza comes from the PA.Skip to next paragraph
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Nevertheless, the dispute illustrates the deep mistrust between the Fatah-dominated PA and Hamas, which has run Gaza since ousting Fatah in 2007.
Why Gaza can't increase its own power output
The power plant has lacked sufficient fuel to power its four turbines this year, often running only one. During the summer, when temperatures can top 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the plant shut down completely at least twice, plunging Gaza residents into 12 to 16-hour rolling blackouts for eight days.
Distribution over Gaza's creaky grid is another problem. “The lines we have now are at max capacity, so to increase supply we would need to build more lines,” Dabbour says. Doing that is a practical impossibility given the hostilities between Israel, Egypt, and the Hamas government and the difficulty of importing construction materials, which are banned under a 3-year-old Israeli economic blockade on Gaza that is supported by Egypt.
“The only way we can really increase is to go through the power plant,” he says. “But we need fuel to run the turbines.”
Lax bill collection in Hamas-run Gaza
Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the PA in Ramallah, says that the PA has been paying the entire monthly bill for the Israeli and Egyptian electricity that is piped into Gaza (the majority of Gaza’s electricity supply), at a cost of 40 million shekels, plus “most, if not all” of the fuel from Dor Alon.
The Israel Electric Corporation said that payment for the electricity it supplies to the Gaza Strip – about 76,000 megawatts a month at a cost of 26 million shekels a month – comes from the PA via the Israeli Ministry of Finance.
Altogether Mr. Khatib says that Gaza’s monthly bill is more than 80 million shekels, but that due to lax bill collection the Gaza government pays almost none of that.
“Through bill collection the government of Gaza contributes just 5 percent to this total,” says Mr. Khatib by phone. “It makes no sense.”
He says that few if any of Gaza’s government ministries and high-ranking Hamas leaders pay for their power, and argues that Hamas should start by collecting bills from its own civil servants as well as those still receiving paychecks in Gaza from the Ramallah-based PA.
Officials at GEDCo admit they have a problem: each month they distribute 40 to 45 million shekels of power but only collect 18 to 20 million shekels in payment. In the past year their bill collection has stepped up considerably: in 2009 they collected from 25 percent of customers, but in 2010 that figure has jumped to 40 percent.
Nevertheless, Dabbour says that collecting much more than that is “impossible” due to Gaza’s widespread poverty and the company’s own poor service.
“If we knock the door to a customer’s house and say, ‘We need you to pay your bill,’ they will say back, ‘Give me good services, we have no services,’” says Dabbour. “People cannot pay.”
Gazans deeply affected, but determined
The effects of Gaza’s electricity shortage affect every part of life. Generators are expensive and dangerous; Gaza’s Health Ministry says 150 people have died in generator accidents in the past few years.
Without reliable electricity farmers cannot pump water from wells, sewage cannot be treated, and sensitive hospital equipment is damaged.
“It affects me so much,” says Nour Harazeen, a 20-year-old university student who studied for recent exams by candlelight. “I got an A+ though, so in Gaza you just get used to it. Nothing stops us.”
Correspondent Daniella Cheslow contributed from Jerusalem.