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Israel

Economic Links Quietly Bind Israel And Gaza

Without infrastructure and trade that arrives from Israel, the situation in Gaza would be even worse. So the lines are left open, even as bombs and missiles fly in every direction.

There's more than you think to this story
There's more than you think to this story
Dani Rubinstein and Lior Gutman

TEL AVIV — While Hamas fires dozens of rockets every day towards Israeli cities, and while the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) crushes the terrorist infrastructures in Gaza, there is a little-mentioned anomaly in the domain of infrastructure and trade.

The Israeli Electric Corporation (IEC) continues to provide its services to houses and institutions in Gaza, while Mekorot (the Israeli water company) keeps up its supply of water to complement the local Palestinian suppliers. Meanwhile the movement of trucks loaded with goods continues through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel towards Gaza.

The reason for this anomaly is simple, and is not some sudden expression of good-hearted behavior on the part of the Israeli government — instead, it is because ever since the Oslo Accords of 1993, it has no other choice. Israel controls all the outside borders of Gaza, whether at sea, land or air. The only exception is the Rafah crossing to Egypt. With such control, Israel has to take responsibility for what is happening in that closed swath of territory.

Israel's obligation to Gaza is preserved in international agreements and treaties, and the country is therefore responsible for the well-being of more than 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.

The incoming power supply to Gaza is a clear demonstration of the Palestinian dependency on Israel for basic measures of daily life. The power is supplied by three main sources: Israel, local production in Gaza and Egypt.

Yet, high gas prices tend to limit local production. Actually, only a 12-hour supply of power is currently being supplied to the people of Gaza. In hundreds of houses, especially in those with several floors, home-made generators have been installed in order to fill the gap and people plan their comings and goings according to the power supply hours in order to be able to take the elevator.

If it were up to the IEC, they would have stopped the supply long ago since the Palestinian Authority owes them $410 million. The head of the IEC executive board, Iftah Ron Tal, has said in the past that the decision to cut the supply of power to Gaza or the West Bank would be a political decision, and the IEC cannot make it on its own.

Top executives at the electric company say that the National Security Council, which reports to the prime minister’s office, has unofficially ordered the company to avoid a cut off of the supply to the West Bank and Gaza. It appears the prime minister’s office is worried what effect such an action could have on Israel's image abroad.

Boil your water

Preventing a power cut also has a clear humanitarian aspect: Israel does not have the ability to choose between the services that would be cut off from the power system. Therefore, a power cut could also affect non-fighting populations as well as the hospitals in Gaza.

The dependence that forces Israel to face the situation from a legal and humanitarian point of view to supply electricity to Gaza is what prevents the government in Gaza — whether it is Hamas or the Palestinian Authority itself — from truly disconnecting from Israel.

Until 2008 there had been an old yet functional powerhouse in Gaza that worked on diesel fuel and supplied dozens of megawatts. But it was bombed by the IDF during the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead intervention.

In order to disconnect from Israel, another powerhouse would have to be built in Gaza that would supply 350 to 400 megawatts to answer the current and growing demand. However, the cost of such a project is around $880 million and would take approximately 36 months to complete.

So even if the people of Gaza find a funding source for their powerhouse like the European Union or Qatar, technically they would be able to disconnect from the Israeli power system only at the end of the decade.

The people of Gaza also depend on Israeli companies for gas supplies, including fuel and diesel for their vehicles. According to estimates of the Israeli gas companies, they supply 200,000 liters of fuel and diesel and a few thousand liters of cooking gas every day. Even now, during the war, companies continue to supply fuel to Gaza as part of the transfer of goods.

As for water, Gaza also depends on Israel. Mekorot supplies 5 million cubic meters of water annually, as part of the obligations signed in the Oslo Accords. However, local authorities have drilled wells in the coastal aquifer in order to provide a sufficient water quantity to complement the demand. But the drilling was badly done and resulted in the pollution of the water.

The lack of regular power supply also affects the sewage system and caused the penetration of sewage in the water system. As a result, the people of Gaza have to boil their water before they drink it.

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