I first met Mohammed, who is three years old and suffers from severe digestive and respiratory diseases, at Rantisi Children’s Hospital in Gaza City. I went there in April as part of an investigation into the impact of the worsening electricity crisis that followed the reduction in the supply of power from Israel to the Gaza Strip.
Mohammed is a cheerful boy who must be hospitalized for 10 days every month. Due to his respiratory disease he needs to use an electric inhaler frequently. His mother relates how one night he had an attack of respiratory distress. He needed his inhaler but there was no power. His parents picked him up, together with the inhaler and his medications, and began running through the narrow streets of Gaza City’s Yafa neighborhood, looking for lights in windows, a sign of a source of electricity. They came to a pharmacy that operated a generator, and the boy was able to use his inhaler until the attack passed.
Mohammed’s father worked as a carpenter until his shop was destroyed by an Israeli aerial attack during Operation Cast Lead in 2009. Since then he has sold vegetables with his brother in Gaza City. Every morning they buy vegetables for their cart, which they take around the city. Their profits range from 20 to 25 shekels a day ($6 to $7). Six months ago, the father could earn 50 shekels by noon, but now the situation is intolerable, he says. People don’t even have money for basic necessities. He needs 800 shekels a month for medicine, special milk and diapers for Mohammed but he can’t make that much and his debts to pharmacies and groceries are mounting.
He can’t afford to install a solar power system in the family’s home, which could generate enough electricity for the inhaler that saves his son’s life. He never knows whether he’ll have money in his pocket for a taxi in case he needs to get Mohammed to a hospital urgently.
Everyone is aware of the humanitarian and economic disaster in the Gaza Strip. Everyone knows it’s man-made. As long as Israel sold the Gaza Strip only 60 percent of the amount of electricity it did in previous years, people hoped the crisis was temporary. But now that the norm is for power to be supplied for almost eight hours a day (followed by up to 12 hours of no electricity) one can no longer relate to this in the same manner. This is an unreasonable and dangerous norm, not only for families with a sick child but for any family, for the economy and for the health system, and especially for Gaza’s fragile infrastructure, including water supplies, sewage treatment and rainwater drainage.
The media and social networks are filled with descriptions of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and with calls for change. Reports by Amos Harel in Haaretz, according to which some elements in the Israeli military are waiting for the inevitable calamity before taking action, have caused some panicked responses. The impression is that Gaza is related to as a dangerous phenomenon, not as a home to its residents.
Leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as well as Egypt and the international community, know everything they need to know, including possible solutions and urgent needs. They also must know that if they don’t act quickly history will not forgive their sins against 2 million human beings.
Mohammed Azaizeh is a resident of Gaza and a field worker for Gisha.
*This article was translated by Haaretz and first published on January 30, 2018.