Gisha warns parties responsible for Gaza, primarily Israel: Gaza’s infrastructure is on the verge of collapse and time is running out

Tuesday, January 24, 2017: A new report by Gisha, Hand on the Switch: Who’s Responsible for Gaza’s Infrastructure Crisis? offers, for the first time, an extensive and sobering review of the state of Gaza’s energy, water and communications infrastructure. The report parcels out the responsibilities of all relevant actors and shares expert opinions for immediate solutions that could stave off collapse and promote reconstruction and development.

Each year, the winter brings with it avoidable tragedies linked to the state of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. Demonstrators poured into the streets of Gaza over the last few weeks to protest severe electricity shortages. The Palestinian authorities exchanged blame and protests were in some instances reportedly suppressed using violent means. Despite large donations for purchase of fuel, much-needed, sustainable change remains distant. Even in the best of circumstances, Gaza residents receive continuous supply of electricity for no more than eight hours per day, water is undrinkable, untreated sewage flows to the sea, and Gaza’s cellular communications are stuck several generations behind. Gaza’s residents are young and educated; the removal of barriers could drive the economy forward, however, instead, third world-like conditions impede development.

Hand on the Switch reviews the backstory on Gaza’s infrastructure in recent decades and outlines how responsibility for the current situation is divided among the actors involved – Israel, the authorities in Ramallah and in Gaza, Egypt and the international community. Each of these players wields influence over Gaza’s infrastructure that gives rise to an obligation to cooperate in order to improve the current situation. The gap between the kind of civilian infrastructure required for normal life and the situation on the ground flies in the face of the logic embraced by many Israeli politicians and security officials that economic well-being in Gaza is a precondition for regional stability. A vicious circle of neglect and destruction, financial difficulties, political tensions, restrictions on bringing in necessary equipment and on travel for technicians perpetuates the state of Gaza’s infrastructure.

One fact stands out above all: Israel has maintained 50 years of continuous control over Gaza:

  • Decades of Israel’s physical presence inside Gaza created a near complete dependency on it for the supply of energy, water and communications. Gaza’s infrastructure was not developed according to the needs of a growing population in a rapidly changing world, and as a result, Gaza was left behind. Israel has taken advantage of Gaza’s dependency on Israel for political purposes, including at times by stopping supply of fuel and electricity. It also prevents Gaza residents from accessing advanced communications technology. The report includes Gisha’s legal analysis of the division of responsibility between the various parties that have the capacity to effect positive change. Israel must take an active, central role in such a process.
  • Severe restrictions Israel has imposed on access to and from Gaza over the past two decades, and especially since 2007 when the closure on the Strip was tightened, destroyed the economy and thwarted maintenance and development of infrastructure. Restrictions on entrance of items Israel considers to be “dual-use” obstruct efforts to repair infrastructure, such as the power plant and its fuel reservoirs, which were damaged in air raids, and delay the development of alternative energy sources, as well as water and sanitation projects.

Gisha calls on Israel to allow the entry of materials needed for repairs and maintenance and to facilitate, instead of hamper, the work of other parties involved, Palestinian as well as international. Israel, in fact, should be a driver of positive, cooperative change. Aside from the legal and moral duty to ensure normal lives for Gaza’s civilian population, Israel’s interests in doing so are clear: the collapse of Gaza’s infrastructure would have direct bearing on the lives and health of Israelis, as pollution and illness know no borders.

Gisha calls on the Palestinian Authority, the Hamas government, Egypt and the international community to work together to ensure Gaza residents have access to the dignified living conditions they deserve.

Synopsis of and recommendations from Hand on the Switch

Energy: Electricity blackouts last at least 12 hours daily, and can reach 20 hours. Cooking gas and fuel for industry and vehicles are continually in short supply. These shortages disrupt daily life, impede education, health services, transportation, sanitation, farming and industry, and, consequently, impact the economy and human security. Israel sells Gaza 120 megawatts (MW) of electricity, Egypt sells 28 MW, and Gaza’s only power plant produces 60 – 80 MW on average. Together, this adds up to about half the daily demand (~400 MW). Fuel, including diesel required for running the power plant, comes in from Israel only.  The amount of cooking gas Israel sells Gaza (~160 tons daily during 2016) also meets a little more than half of demand (~300 tons).

Water: The water running through Gaza’s dilapidated pipe system is contaminated, cannot be used for most needs and may constitute a health hazard. It is also irregularly supplied. The amount of water sold by Israel to Gaza has recently increased, but insufficient infrastructure in Gaza prevents the uptake of the full amount agreed upon (10 million cubic meters per year). Electricity shortages make it difficult to pump water into homes, operate existing desalination facilities and plan future ones. Internal disputes, together with funding difficulties, prevent improvements to sewage treatment. Israel blames Palestinians for the situation, but, at the same time, restricts and severely delays the entry of materials and equipment necessary for progress on projects, including those meant to repair damage from the latest military operation in 2014. The risk of future conflict deters foreign donors from initiating new projects.

Communications: Israel denies Gaza’s nearly two million residents access to high-speed internet and third generation (3G) cellular networks. Gaza residents depend on Israel for communications infrastructure and for permits to use new technologies. Despite a request made by the Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology ten years ago, Israel refuses to allocate communications frequencies, and controls Gaza’s electromagnetic space. Under its “dual-use” policy, Israel restricts the entry of “communications equipment”, including optical fibers, routers, recording devices and even fax machines and printers.

Recommendations:

Short-term: The Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority (PENRA) recommendations include: waiving the excise tax for diesel; improving collection on energy bills; repairing existing infrastructure and adapting it to demand; reaching agreements with Israel on rates, and; increasing the amount of electricity supplied to Gaza by connecting the supply line already agreed to by Israel (expected to add 100 MW). Various institutions in charge of managing water and sanitation facilities recommend increasing the supply of electricity from Egypt as well, in order to facilitate consistent pumping of running water into homes and operation of sewage treatment facilities. They also recommend upgrades to facilitate entrance of the full 10 mcm of water.

All experts emphasized the importance of allowing technicians and crews access to and from Gaza. They stressed the need to lift restrictions on entry of spare parts and other equipment needed for repair of the power plant and other items such as UPS devices, which are essential during power outages, and solar panels. Use of digital communications is crucial for economic and technological development and for the growth of advanced industries, which have much potential in Gaza. It is also essential for reducing unemployment and streamlining businesses and public services.  The need for digital communications is especially acute given severe restrictions on access to the outside world.

Medium and long-term: In the longer run, solutions would include connecting the power plant to natural gas sources, building a large-scale desalination plant and large water reservoirs, as well as developing the water supply system. Experts recommend increasing the supply of water from Israel an additional 30 mcm of water, along with the implementation of the existing strategic plan for improvements to the water and sewage systems. Accordingly, Israel’s commitment to refrain from damaging new infrastructure facilities is required, along with mobilization by the international communication to assist with financial and technical support.

To read the full report – click here