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Sewage floods Gaza streets as lack of fuel plunges strip into darkness

Nov. 15, 2013 11:07 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 17, 2013 1:18 P.M.)
By: Alex Shams
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Sewage has flooded the streets of a central Gaza City neighborhood as an ongoing fuel shortage and the shutdown of the besieged region's sole functioning power plant has caused the failure of the Strip's main waste water treatment plant.

Residents of al-Zaytoun in central Gaza City were surprised Wednesday night to find the streets of their neighborhood flooded with refuse and waste, compounding the suffering of Gaza residents amidst escalating power outages.

Fuel shortages have caused daily life in the Gaza Strip to grind slowly to a halt, as power plants and water pumps are forced to shut down, cutting off access to basic necessities for Gaza residents.

Even transportation across the 41-km long territory is becoming impossible, as drivers wait for hours at a time for access to small amounts of gasoline.

But the flood of sewage through central Gaza has made even crossing the street a nightmare for local residents.

Ezz Al Zanoon, a photographer and resident of al-Zaytoun, told Ma'an that on Wednesday night the lack of electricity caused the sewage plant to fail.

"When the pumps failed, sewage flooded the streets. Even until now (Friday night), there's sewage in the streets."

"The streets are closed, kids can't play, people can't go to work. Everything is affected," he added.

'There is fear, there is no life'

Ma'an spoke with Al Zanoon in a telephone interview to get a sense of how Gazans were coping under increasingly difficult circumstances.

"The electricity goes off for 12 hours at a time, and then comes back on for six, and then back off again for 12," Al Zanoon explained.

Even though many Gaza City residents, businesses, and public institutions have generators in case the electricity goes out, the lack of fuel means that these cannot operate. As a result, every aspect of daily life is shutting down.

"After 8 p.m. no one is in the street anymore. Everywhere there is fear, there is no life. At night, there are no lights on the street, no cars outside, there is nothing."

"We can't even move around the Gaza Strip, as small as it is. There is not even fuel for cars," he added.

"Everything has changed."

"I don't have electricity so I can't work most of the time, at home or in the office. I take pictures and then I can't do anything, I just have to wait for the electricity to come back."

"Two days ago I went to the hospital for an operation. While I was there the electricity cut off for 10 minutes. Even though the hospital has a generator, the lack of fuel meant this wasn't working. At a hospital the electricity cannot go off for 10 minutes, the whole system and all of the machines go off as well," he said.

"If the crisis doesn't get solved soon, we will be left with only four hours of electricity at a time," Al Zanoon added.

'What are we guilty of?'

The lack of fuel means that water is also an increasingly scarce resource across the Strip, available to many residents for only two hours a day.

"In al-Zaytoun, where I live, the municipality water station distributes water from 2 to 4 a.m., so everyone stays up all night to take advantage of the water when it comes on," Al Zanoon said.

"But then sometimes if there is no electricity, it doesn't come. And so everyone sits there waiting until the early morning, and nothing comes."

"The people are the victims. No one can even think about politics anymore."

"All they think about is how can we get the water to work? How can I wash my children? That's what people are talking about, they can't think about political issues."

"What are we guilty of?"

"People don't even think about the nation anymore, all they can think about is how to survive and how to solve their own problems. People are terrified," he added.

'When Sisi came, Gaza was destroyed'

Until July of this year, Al Zanoon said, life in Gaza had been improving significantly over the worst years of the Israeli blockade prior.

However, when the Egyptian military overthrew President Morsi in a coup and began destroying the tunnels that provided a vital lifeline for the besieged Gaza Strip, everything changed.

"Today there is a lack of food, of medicine, of everything. But a year ago, everything was fine. After the internal issues in Egypt, Gaza died. When (General) Sisi came, Gaza was destroyed."

"All checkpoints and passages were closed, and everything was destroyed. Nothing could enter. Everything was closed."

"Egypt allowed us to depend on them, and then they cut it all off. They are the source of the lack of fuel."

The blame, however, does not fall only on Egypt in Al Zanoon's mind.

"I blame the Gaza government, the Palestinian Authority, and the Israeli occupation, who are the biggest three factors in the crisis in addition to Egypt."

"They all work for their own benefit, and the Israeli occupation benefits from this the most."

'We just want to live dignified lives'

The Gaza Strip has been without a functioning power plant since the beginning of the month, when the plant ran out of diesel fuel as a result of the tightening of a 7-year-long blockade imposed on the territory by Israel with Egyptian support.

The plant itself was only reopened last year after it was targeted by an Israeli airstrike in the 2006 assault on the Strip. The power plant generates around 30 percent of the Gaza Strip's electricity supply, while the rest comes from Israel and Egypt.

Until July of this year, the tunnels to Egypt provided a vital lifeline for the territory amidst the otherwise crippling Israeli blockade. The blockade has been in place since 2006, and it has limited imports and exports and led to a major economic decline and wide-reaching humanitarian crisis.

In the last year, however, the situation had greatly improved, as the tunnels to Egypt witnessed a brisk trade following the Egyptian Revolution.

Gaza Strip energy officials have blamed Egypt for destroying numerous tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and Egypt in recent months. They also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for charging taxes on fuel too high for Gaza Strip authorities to afford.

For Gaza residents, however, the distribution of guilt among various parties means little as the power shuts off, water is unavailable, and sewage overflows onto city streets.

"I don't believe in any parties. We don't want problems or wars with anyone. We just want to live life, to have electricity, water, to be able to communicate, and to move freely," Al Zanoon told Ma'an.

"We ask for life, for no war, and for a dignified life. We love life. We love peace. We just want to live dignified lives."
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