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Report from Gaza: Power cuts, donkeys and 404s

15 February 2010

The following was written by Rada Stojanovic, a Viva Palestina member who stayed behind in Gaza after the convoy left.

On Tuesday 26 January, the eight-hour daily electricity cuts were replaced by 12-hour ones, and then, on Wednesday, the news came that there will be no electricity at all because Gaza had run out of the diesel needed to run its power stations. People were saying that Israel was refusing to allow diesel and it later turned out that that was only a smaller part of the problem.

From what I could gather from Al Jazeera in Arabic and from talking to people, until January, Gazan electricity was paid for by the European Union (EU). The EU decided some time ago that they could not afford the expense in the times of economic downturn and duly informed Gaza and Ramallah about it. Because the Gazan government could afford it even less, Gazans were plunged into darkness for a whole day and a bit until Ramallah decided last Thursday to buy them some electricity from Israel and Egypt.

I doubt that this would get Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) any brownie points in this place, where many believe that he would gladly see them die just to get at Hamas. He does not do himself any favors when he says that Egypt is right to be building a metal border wall which will go deeply into the ground and cut the tunnels which are preventing starvation in Gaza.

“Egypt is a sovereign state and the Gaza-Egypt trade should be taking place through the border crossing”, he said to a Guardian journalist recently, and one wonders what planet he lives on. He must know that Egypt keeps the border crossing with Gaza firmly shut most of the time, and that statements like these only make Gazans like Hamas even more.

So now we are on a ’12 hours off, 8 hours on’ regime. It is 11.30pm on Monday 1 February and I am sitting in the dark with the lamp and typing away.

Not everybody sits in darkness though. It is always the poor (and the poorer internationals) who suffer most. The UN building across the street is as well lit as ever, so at least our street is never pitch black.

The diesel powered generator salesmen are doing a roaring trade these days, selling electricity producing machines that look like the grass cutters, at 300 dollars or more apiece. The moment the power is cut, an almighty buzz of many generators starts. This is definitely the sound of Gaza nowadays, just like jazz is the sound of New Orleans. There are worries that soon diesel will become even scarcer (it is already in short supply) and that equality amongst Gazans will be established with nobody having electricity during the cut times.

At the same time, cooking gas is becoming more difficult to come by, and I have seen containers being sold by the road for the first time since I arrived almost a month ago. The combination of no electricity and no cooking gas is going to make lives of Gazans very difficult, no matter how used they are to coping with abnormal life conditions. But than again, the tunnel trade will probably respond to the increase in demand by increasing both supply and prices. And if Abu Mazen’s wishes regarding the Egyptian wall come true, god only knows what will happen to 1.5 million besieged and imprisoned Gazans.

What people who have money do when there is no regular supply of basics is – stock up. Firefighters form the Civil Defense and Red Crescent staff told me that there has been a sharp increase in the number of fires and related injuries caused by people stocking diesel and gas in their homes.

Good old miniature white donkeys, the kings of Gazan streets, are so not affected by all this and are everywhere pulling enormous weights. Day and night, they whiz between the posh four-wheel drives and less fancy battered old cars, such as the long forgotten (in Europe) Peugeot 404s, which I am told used to be taxis taking Gazans to work in Israel years ago.

Peugeot should come to Gaza to make a commercial about the quality and durability of their cars. It would be a very exotic commercial with dusty bustling streets, bearded traders and shoppers, and Peugeots and donkeys as indestructible survivors. I can see it in my head! I must write to Peugeot and sell them the idea – with all income going to the (International Solidarity Movement) ISM!

I particularly like the Peugeot 404 pick-ups, which I have never seen before. A friend who is a vintage car enthusiast , and who has beautifully restored the 10 oldest cars in Gaza (must write about this some other time), told me that initially Gazans bought Peugeots because they were good cars, but also because they could easily get spare parts for them in Israel and from each other.

Gazans can keep anything going, but, unfortunately, what is happening to them feels like a vile experiment in how much they can endure, day in day out.

PS by Joti: I was speaking to a friend in Gaza over the weekend, and he told me that he spent his whole day off trying to buy cooking gas, but, for the first time, couldn’t find any. Since there’s no electricity and no gas for cooking, he must now try to buy (very expensive) ready-cooked food from the market for himself and his pregnant wife. If this is difficult for him, how much harder must it be for the majority of Gazans, who don’t have jobs?

Generators for sale on the street in Gaza

Generators for sale on the street in Gaza

Donkey cart piled high in a Gaza street

Donkey cart piled high in a Gaza street

The great survivor: a Peugeot 404 pick-up

The great survivor: a Peugeot 404 pick-up

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mohamed Hassan permalink
    15 February 2010 10:14pm

    Opps…never realized it as I do know. Thanks for the update, god be with them and all those fighters like you 😀

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