The round of fighting is over, but the electricity problem in Gaza will not disappear so quickly

The round of fighting is over, but the electricity problem in Gaza will not disappear so quickly
The round of fighting is over, but the electricity problem in Gaza will not disappear so quickly

Operation Shield and Arrow was short, but as the fighting progressed and the issue of shutting down the power plant in Gaza came up, it began to mention previous operations such as Pillar of Cloud (2012) and Tzuk Eitan (2014). In the meantime, the operation has indeed ended and the crossings have reopened, but the residents of the Gaza Strip will continue to face a permanent lack of electricity.

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The saga began at the beginning of the operation on Tuesday, when the coordinator of government operations in the territories Major Rasan Aliyan announced the immediate closure of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings. On Friday, the Energy Authority in the Gaza Strip announced that the power plant had a three-day diesel supply left, ie until Monday, a message that was repeated on Saturday as well. “The supply of fuel has been completely stopped, so the stocks are about to run out,” it was reported from Gaza. According to them, the cessation of activity on Monday afternoon will lead to the worsening of the electricity deficit to about 70%, and as a result essential facilities – hospitals, the sewage system and the water system – will be damaged. In the end, after the ceasefire, the coordinator of government operations in the territories hastened to announce the re-opening of the crossings in Rishon, in part, to prevent the worsening of the electricity crisis in Gaza.

Throughout Operation Shield and Arrow, Israel foiled six senior Islamic Jihad officials. Beyond the assassinations that illustrate how exposed the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip is to the IDF and Shin Bet, they are a severe leadership blow to the terrorist organization, which is much smaller than Hamas. The leadership void in the military wing of the terrorist organization was taken from afar by Secretary General Ziad Nakhla, who lives in Beirut under the auspices of Hezbollah, and a close associate of the commander of the Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, the head of the military wing, Akram al-Ajuri, who enjoys Iranian protection in Damascus. While the members of the terrorist organization in Gaza Suffering severe blows one after the other, they tried to bring about the continuation of the fighting, including the deactivation of the power plant in Gaza, in the hope of worsening the escalation in the form of bringing Hamas into the campaign, or at the very least to achieve a significant “victory” image for them, which did not happen.

Daily shortage of electricity supply

Today, residents of the Gaza Strip receive daily electricity supply for 10-12 hours. This is thanks to Qatari funding in the amount of 10 million dollars every month for the purchase of diesel fuel for the power plant in Gaza, whose original purpose from its establishment in 2002 was to generate electricity for Gaza City and its surroundings only, in practice the situation is quite different.

In 2021, for example, the average daily electricity consumption of 2 million residents of the Gaza Strip was 500 megawatts (at peak demand in winter and summer, consumption may reach 600), while the average supply is about 190 megawatts. That is, a daily shortage of 310 megawatts. In 2022, the gap between the amount of energy requested and the supply was 56%: 189 megawatts are available out of the required 420 megawatts.

This gap has serious consequences. According to the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor organization, approximately 30% of Gaza’s residents do not have regular access to water due to the permanent lack of electricity, and when 96.2% of the water is groundwater that does not meet the standards of the World Health Organization – this is a particularly serious situation. At the same time, the waiting time for non-urgent surgeries in the Gaza Strip increased from three months in 2005 to 16 months in 2021. Throughout this period, all of this did not cause Hamas to stop using the electricity it has for the benefit of the operation and development of its tunnel project, which consumes a large amount of electricity that is difficult to estimate.

The dependence of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and both Judea and Samaria on Israeli energy is absolute. Between the years 2010-2020, the volume of electricity imported by the Palestinians from Israel to the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria increased by 56% – up to 91% of all imported electricity. This is a volume of electricity 11 times greater than the electricity purchases from the Gaza Electric Company. For that matter, in 2020 alone the volume of electricity imported to Gaza and Judea and Samaria was 83.8% (when almost all the fuels came from Israel). The rest of the electricity came from Jordan (2.6%), the Palestinian Electricity Transport Company (5.3%) and the Palestinian Electricity Production Company (8.3%). At the same time, in the Gaza Strip alone, 35% of the electricity in 2020 came from the Electricity Production Company and the rest from Israel.

The lack of electricity causes, among other things, that its price increases and it takes a significant share of the monthly expenses of the Gazans. In 2021, the average electricity bill of a resident of Gaza ranges between NIS 300-150, while the average monthly salary of a person who worked in Gaza was NIS 1,260. The situation of 17 thousand workers from the Gaza Strip who work in Israel is less serious, because their salary is 5.3 times higher and stands at NIS 7,000.

“In my house I work with two electricity companies, an electricity company and a generation company,” Sami Obeid, a journalist living in Gaza, tells Globes. “The monthly payment at home is NIS 200 to the electric company and NIS 250-400 to the generator company. In the office, the payment is NIS 100 to the electric company and a payment that can reach NIS 800 a month if the air conditioning is turned on. In addition, I pay the elevator company in the building NIS 500 Because I live on the fifth floor and must have electricity for 24 hours. You cannot live without electricity and Israel has the ability to solve the problem.”

“Only 10% of Gaza residents live properly”

In the absence of an answer to the field of electricity production and rising costs, many residents of the Gaza Strip, hospitals and businesses are turning to solar energy. In this way, according to the World Bank, 150 megawatts can be produced in the Gaza Strip, while the maximum output of the power plant in Gaza is 140 megawatts. The issue that currently limits the development of the sector in the Strip is the high cost estimated at thousands of dollars for each house on the roof of which a solar installation will be installed.

Although this is a beneficial long-term investment, for an average family where both parents work, this is an almost impossible expense. Therefore, at least in domestic solar energy, this is a step that belongs only to the wealthy of Gaza. And who are the rich of Gaza? Mostly, senior Hamas officials and their associates.

The Gazan journalist Obeid points out that not everyone can afford to pay a generator company. “Only 10% of the residents of Gaza live properly. People are barely living, the situation is very difficult. There is no work and life is expensive,” he explains. Regarding the question of whether it would not have been better for the residents of the Gaza Strip if Hamas had not been in power, he replies: “Who will come to rule Gaza instead of Hamas? We need to think about that. The police and officials of Hamas themselves do not receive high salaries, 2,000-1,500 shekels. Hamas wants To continue because he is the only government in Gaza, but there is poverty, unemployment, no money, and people hardly leave here. Nevertheless, we have to manage and find a way to bring food. It is the fault of the Israeli government, who look down on Gaza and do not help.”

Regarding the future, Obeid is not afraid of an Iranian takeover of the Gaza Strip through the Islamic Jihad. “Iran wants to take over Gaza and it is clear that it can only do so through the Islamic Jihad,” Obeid concludes, “but Hamas is Sunni and it is difficult to even find a Shia resident in the Gaza Strip. Hamas versus the Islamic Jihad is like a tiger versus a cat. The residents of the Gaza Strip, Most of them don’t like Iran.”

The international interest: to provide solar energy to Gaza

It was easier for the 13 hospitals in the Gaza Strip to make the transition to solar energy, with the help of relying on foreign funds. At Al-Rantisi Hospital in Gaza City, for example, they installed 160 solar panels in 2017 with the help of Chinese funding. These produce 30 megawatts, which is enough for 40% of hospital wards. Along with the solar system, the hospital is still based on the power plant in Gaza and three generators designed to back up the frequent power outages. But on the positive side: solar energy saved Al-Rantisi Hospital 800 million dollars in electricity expenses.

The transition to solar energy in hospitals and public infrastructure facilities is in the interest of the international organizations, which provided a lot of funding for the issue of generation in the Gaza Strip. Even before the deployment of the solar panels on such a scale in the hospitals, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) funded fuel for generators in approximately 150 essential facilities. According to UN data, the funding of this emergency fuel stock amounted to 6-10 million dollars per year – Depends on the severity of the situation in Gaza.

The gas reservoir that may be a solution to the shortage

A reasonable option for developing the Gaza Strip and meeting its energy needs is the development of the Gaza Marine reservoir, which the Israeli and Palestinian governments are holding talks about. The reservoir is located 36 km off the coast of Gaza, and is estimated to hold 32 BCM (billion cubic meters). This means an annual income of 800-700 million dollars per year with the production of 1.5 BCM every year for 20 years.

The “Gaza Marine” reservoir was discovered in September 2000, and is located in an area whose status is unclear. Israel has never officially given it up, but already in 2000 – then Prime Minister Ehud Barak granted Yasser Arafat the right to drill in it and enjoy its revenues. Today, if the Palestinians want to benefit from revenues from it – an agreement is required to determine its status.

In February 2021, the issue came back to the fore when Egypt and the Palestinian Authority signed a memorandum of understanding for the development of Marin. As part of the agreement, the Egyptian Natural Gas Holdings Company and the Palestinian Authority will cooperate in the development of the reservoir, and in the transmission to the Gaza Strip and the liquefaction facilities in Egypt.

Last year, the issue became significant again when the Bennett-Lapid government received an appeal to promote the development of the reservoir. However, in July, the then Minister of Energy Karin Elharer decided to pass the “hot potato” to the next government. At the same time, it was announced that Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt are working to promote a process to develop the gas field – mediated by the US and the European Union.

In October of last year, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry even stated that there is already a framework agreement with all parties, including Israel, and he expects progress soon. However, since the government changed, seven months have passed and the parties, at least for now, have not yet reached an agreement. According to a report in the Saudi “Arab News” agency, the issue recently took center stage in the American-mediated talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which took place in Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh, when the Israeli delegation was headed by the head of the Palestinian Authority, Tzachi Hanegbi. Those who were also present at the meetings were senior officials from Jordan and from Egypt.