Louisa Waugh
The Sunday Herald
November 30, 2008 - 8:00pm

"WE HAVE power cuts for about 10 hours every day. So if we have electricity at home in the morning, we know there will be no light in the evening. I bought two lamps with rechargeable batteries for the house, and that helped us, but now they are not working, and there are no spare parts to repair them, so we are using candles."

Khalil Shaheen, his wife Zahia and their three children live in the Talil-Hawa district of southern Gaza City. "We live on the third floor" he says, "and when the power is cut, the electric water pump stops working too - so we sometimes have no water either. It's miserable, especially for the kids. My 10-year-old, Amir, is doing his homework with candles." Khalil and his wife are both working, and by Gazan standards the family is quite well off. But no-one is being spared the misery of power cuts and chronic fuel shortages during this latest closure of Gaza by the Israeli government.

Zekra Ashour, aged 31, and her family live in Il Tufa, a working-class neighbourhood in northern Gaza city. Her family is also enduring daily 10-hour power cuts. "We use a lot of candles" she says, "but now they are getting expensive, because everyone is depending on them. We can't cook at home because now we have very little gas. We just make hot drinks, and buy food that is already cooked, or we eat something cold."

Gaza is crumbling under the impact of this latest closure, which began more than three weeks ago. On November 5, claiming to have found a tunnel leading from eastern Gaza into Israel, the Israeli military launched an incursion, killing five Palestinian fighters in eastern Gaza. Militant groups inside Gaza responded by launching a barrage of rockets towards Israel, claiming the Israelis had broken the terms of the Tahdiya, or temporary cease-fire, that was agreed between Israel and Gaza back in June.

Tensions rose as Israel closed the five border crossings into Gaza that it directly controls, claiming this was in response to "the continuation of Palestinian rocket attacks against southern Israel".

These crossings include the Erez terminal in northern Gaza, the main pedestrian crossing into the Strip, and the Nahal Oz crossing in the east, which is used exclusively for fuel deliveries. Gaza has one power plant, which requires 350,000 litres of industrial gasoline a day to run at full capacity. It is operating at less than 20% capacity.

Israel has also banned the entry of humanitarian supplies into Gaza. According to the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), less than five trucks of goods have entered Gaza per day since the closure started, compared with 123 per day in October.

After years of Israeli restrictions and increasingly tight economic sanctions, 76% of the population of Gaza are receiving humanitarian aid, making this one of the most aid-dependent communities on Earth. OCHA's Co-ordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Maxwell Gaylard, describes the current closure as "an assault on human dignity with serious humanitarian implications".

Apart from UN staff, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and a handful of diplomats, no-one is currently permitted to enter or leave the Gaza Strip. Human rights organisations, such as the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), say this latest closure is a continuation of Israel's control over Gaza, and its policy of collectively punishing its population.

"We have been living under Israeli closure and restrictions for years" says Hamdi Shaqqura of PCHR. "This latest closure represents a tightening of the Israeli siege of Gaza that started after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June last year."

Shaqqura agrees that Gaza is facing a serious humanitarian crisis. "But we are also facing a major human rights crisis," he says. "The siege and closure of Gaza violate international humanitarian and human rights laws. People in Gaza have no freedom of movement, and the local economy has been devastated by Israel's refusal to allow goods to be exported from Gaza. These are grave human rights violations."

Despite petitioning Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert for access, journalists have been banned from Gaza since the closure started.


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