A video that allegedly shows Hamas operatives stealing electricity from Gazan civilian institutions was posted on Facebook by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj.-Gen. Yoav “Poly” Mordechai.
“The Hamas terror organization continues to steal from Gazan residents,” Mordechai wrote on his Facebook page. “Yesterday it was reported that Hamas militants reached the Gaza Strip border fence at 16:30, to an area where there is an electricity line to connect it to pirated grids for terror purposes,” Mordechai wrote. The electricity line was intended for hospitals and schools in the city of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, he said, but added: “Hamas is not interested in the population and even oppresses it.”
While Israel and Hamas have both said they are not looking for conflict, the current fuel crisis – in which Gaza Strip residents have less than four hours of electricity per day – has led to concern among senior IDF officials that a confrontation might break out if one side miscalculates actions by the other.
Hamas has provoked confrontation with Israel in the past in order to distract attention from internal issues. In addition to a lack of fuel for electricity, Gaza’s water utility company has also warned that when the power is off, it does not have enough fuel to run water and sanitation facilities.
In early February, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said while the humanitarian situation in the Hamas-run enclave was “bad,” it was not a crisis, and he accused local and international media of spreading “disinformation.”
Unlike most Gazans, Liberman said, Hamas’s leadership has access to electricity all day long.
“In 2017, Hamas spent $260 million to manufacture rockets and dig tunnels, $100m. of which came from Iran, and the rest from tax collection and other donation,” he charged. “Hamas invested $260m. in military strength and wouldn’t divert even one shekel toward water, electricity, health or education... They’re willing to sacrifice all the residents of Gaza.”
In January, Mordechai joined Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and representatives from the Foreign Affairs Ministry at a forum in Brussels to examine possible solutions to the challenges facing the residents of Gaza in areas such as infrastructure, energy and employment.
Mordechai suggested several solutions to the energy crisis, including connecting Gaza to a natural gas infrastructure that could double the electrical supply by adding 140 megawatts of power, with a potential for expansion to 560 MW. He also suggested establishing power line “161” from Israel to Gaza which would be able increase the electricity supply by 30%.
The supply of fuel has been a source of dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas since the group took control of the Strip in a bloody coup in 2007. Despite the violent takeover from Fatah, Abbas’s government in Ramallah has until recently paid the bills for Gaza’s water and electricity as well as the salaries of thousands of civil servants.
In the beginning of April, the PA cut the pay of its Gaza employees by 30% in an attempt to exert pressure on Hamas to cede power in the enclave to the PA. Abbas is also reported to have threatened to stop paying all of Hamas’s bills.
The PA and Hamas have traded blame for the fuel crisis, with the PA claiming Hamas officials are not running the plant efficiently and Hamas saying it cannot afford to buy more fuel and operate the plant because of the high taxes imposed by the PA.
In an April interview with BBC’s Arabic service, Mordechai said, “Unfortunately, Hamas takes NIS 100m. [$28m.] a month from residents of the Gaza Strip: from the goods, from the taxes of all the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and this does not reach the Palestinian Authority.”
Mordechai said that Hamas prefers to spending money on digging tunnels instead of paying the PA and therefore the Strip is “completely dependent on electricity from Israel.”