(photo credit: )
For several days last week many thousands of Gaza residents had to make do without electricity. Had Israel switched off the power - most of which is generated by Israel - it is safe to assume that the international community would have been incensed.
In fact, the process of blaming Israel had already been kick-started with news that fuel deliveries from Israel to Gaza were being suspended at the Nahal Oz crossing - because of warnings of an impending terror attack.
The fact that the lights had just then gone out in Gaza was automatically ascribed to Nahal Oz's closure. The Hamas-led Gaza regime rushed to make the link.
The Gaza Generating Company (GGC, which supplies less than a quarter of the Strip's power) idled three of its four generators, and its head, Rafik Malikha, summoned a press conference and pointed fingers at Israel: "We received no fuel for two days because Israel prevents vehicles from approaching the crossing," he declared.
Yet even as many observers bought into the Israel-to-blame line, Nahal Oz was reopened, but the Gaza blackout persisted. It emerged that the European Union was responsible.
EU donors, who foot the bill for Gaza's fuel purchases, accused Hamas of siphoning off the GGC's income to finance extraneous activities - the nature of which it is, unfortunately, not difficult to deduce.
The true story was presented, from Ramallah, by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. "After Hamas took over the electric company, it began collecting revenues from the population to fund its militia," he explained. "This in turn drove the EU to withhold its aid for providing fuel."
European resolve on this issue has proved fleeting, even though the EU caught Hamas red-handed. Some â‚¬20 million per month is again flowing into Gaza to finance fuel purchases for the GGC, without any reliable guarantees that some of this income won't be diverted for nefarious purposes.
The EU has now discontinued its sanctions, having received unspecified, and doubtless empty, "assurances" that Hamas will change course.
If this brief episode showed anything - apart from the knee-jerk alacrity to blame Israel for all Palestinian ills - it is that Hamas is as corrupt as it has accurately and resonantly accused Fatah of being. In the past it was Hamas that charged that Fatah was skimming off GGC earnings.
Hamas debt-collectors have for weeks been canvassing the Strip from door-to-door, ordering residents to immediately pay their electricity arrears - not to the company, but to Hamas. The fact that even the EU could no longer abide the duplicity and Gaza's gangster-style fund-raising speaks volumes.
The outage that kept much of Gaza not only darkened but also without water (since the pumping stations couldn't function) was caused by some of Gaza's best friends.
Albeit briefly, the EU didn't shy from shutting off the power to express its umbrage at being cheated. Israel, dreading adverse reaction from the EU, among others, fears doing the same even in self-defense.
Ironically, the Ashkelon power station that produces most of the Hamas bailiwick's power is regularly targeted by Kassam rockets. Sderot children are expected to go back to school in a few days' time despite the danger that their classrooms will be hit.
Yet while the EU resorted to collective punishment to demonstrate its anger at the abuse of its funds, Israel is wary of doing the same when lives are at stake.
Israel rightly does not want to create a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, or to directly exacerbate deterioration there - both because of international criticism and, more importantly, its own genuine concern for the well-being of ordinary people.
But the EU precedent only underlines how justified Israel would be in demanding, as a condition for continued supply of electricity to the Strip, a complete halt to the Kassam attacks, among other measures.
The EU's intervention represented a perfect opportunity for Israel to better explain to the international community what is at stake when Hamas abuses the world's ongoing efforts to help the Palestinians.
Sooner or later, if the rocket attacks continue and the terror networks flourish, Israel will be left with no choice but to apply such and other penalties, to prevent Hamas in Gaza from biting the Israeli hand that helps feed it.
Israel would do well to prepare the ground for such moves by drawing world attention to the EU's extraordinary measure, and to the cynical governance by Hamas that prompted it.