In Gaza, a PR power struggle

Hamas, Fatah, Egypt, Islamic Jihad all blame someone (else) for the electricity crisis.

Gaza power plant [file]_390 (photo credit: Reuters)
Gaza power plant [file]_390
(photo credit: Reuters)
Mohammed Al-Helo, a four-month-old infant, died when the shortage of electricity in the Gaza Strip caused the artificial respirator his life depended on to shut down.
His death was a personal tragedy for his family, but for Hamas – the Islamic movement that governs the Gaza Strip – it was an opportunity to illustrate how difficult its struggle is to keep its citizens safe and secure. Portraying it as the first recorded death due to the energy crisis, the movement’s spokesmen and the family said Mohammed’s lifeless body had been brought to Shifa Hospital last Friday.
As the Associated Press quickly discovered, however, Mohammed had in fact died March 4, nearly three weeks earlier. It had been reported in Al-Quds – embarrassingly for Hamas, a newspaper identified with the rival Fatah movement.
But the battle goes on unabated to assign the blame for weeks of chronic blackouts, long lines at filling stations and rising unemployment that have caused ordinary Gazans to move from distress to anger. 
The sides are arrayed like this: Hamas blames Egypt for the fuel shortage, as well as at various times Israel, Fatah and the local power company. Egypt blames Hamas. Fatah blames Hamas. The local power company blames Hamas, too. Even Islamic Jihad entered the blame game. But it can’t decide who is responsible.
In an unusually bland statement from, Islamic Jihad leader, Khaled Al-Batsh announced last Saturday: “If any evidence surfaces proving any role by any Palestinian party or faction in this harsh crisis that Gaza is going through, this faction should be charged and not be absolved.”
If the finger-pointing goes in every conceivable direction, no one takes issues with the fact that Gaza’s 1.4 million people are suffering.
Scheduled power cuts aimed at saving limited supplies of fuel have grown to between 12 and 18 hours a day. Ambulances and fire trucks have put 60% of their fleets out of service. Bakeries have cut back working hours to the mornings. Hospitals are on an emergency footing. Farmers have destroyed crops due to the lack of refrigeration.
Finding a cab is a mission impossible, which means students often fail to show up for classes and employees at their workplaces. Hamas has tried to absorb the rising anger by offering to chauffeur students in governmental-owned vehicles.
A few Gazans have resorted to black humor to cope with the crisis. Ahmed Seba’i, a student, jokes that he has gotten so used to the blackouts he will hit the streets to protest if electricity ever comes back. Ahmed Al-Shurafa, a newlywed, said he and his wife welcomes them. “Our nights are now more romantic – we spend them by candlelight.”
But the great majority of Gazans aren’t sharing in the humor and increasingly daring postings are calling on Hamas to step down.
“How can Hamas’ elected leaders indulge in electricity in their homes day and night because of the huge generators they own, while the people who elected them sleep in darkness?” asked blogger Hammam Mubarak. He urged the movement to solve the energy crisis or step down. Mubarak, who studies political science, headlined his post, “Hamas Should Step Down,” but realizing how dangerous this could be, modified it to: “Hamas – You Are Out of Credit.” 
A survey conducted earlier this month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) found that Hamas could capture just 27% of the vote if parliamentary elections were held today, a decline of eight percentage points from three months ago. Satisfaction with the Hamas government was down five percentage points to 36%.
“Yes, we elected Hamas for government in Gaza back in 2005. They should rise up to the occasion or just resign or leave or announce their failure,” Hussam Hamidiya said.
A sharp drop in power supplies last week has given new impetus to the blame game. Electricity was rationed to a mere four hours day, at most, which idled pumps and led to a shortage in water.
Hassan Younis, the Egyptian minister of energy and electricity, had this to say about where the onus for the blackouts lies – and it is Hamas. Cairo is prepared to supply fuel at low cost to Gaza in consideration of the hardships of life there, he said, but it wants the supplies to be shipped in an orderly fashion, though Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing.
Instead, said Younis, Hamas wants to rip off Egyptian taxpayers by buying energy that is subsidized by the Egyptian government for its own people and smuggle it through the network of tunnels running under their joint border. Hamas wants to rip off Gazans by demanding the fuel be shipped through the Egypt-Gaza border terminal at Rafah, where it can collect taxes on the imports. Egypt, he said, would have none of it.
Taher El-Nono, the Hamas government spokesperson, fired back by accusing Egypt of cooperating with the Israeli occupation. “The Gaza fuel shortage crisis was cooked by many parties and we blame the Israeli occupation for imposing a suffocating siege on Gaza,” he said. “We signed many agreements regarding electricity and fuel with Egypt but they didn’t commit to their obligations despite our transfer of $2 million for fuel.” The Egyptian Energy Authority answered back that Hamas still owes it $6 million.
Not satisfied with blaming Egypt and Israel for the crisis, Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Zahara issued a press release accusing Gaza’s Electricity Generating & Distributing Company for the problem.
The company didn’t take that lying down. Acting General Manager Walid Sayel issued his own press release:  “The company lacks only fuel, and the fuel is the responsibility of Gaza’s Energy Authority, which is run by Hamas.” He accused the Hamas government of trying to seize control the company’s finances, which are now monitored by the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority.
Fatah, meanwhile, let loose with a volley of accusations against Hamas. Its regional office in Gaza issued a press statement denying any responsibility for the fuel crisis or that it was exploiting it to inflame public opinion against Hamas.
When two small shipments of fuel did make their way to Gaza over the weekend from Israel and from Egypt, Fatah and Hamas both crowed over their role in arranging it, making sure that each side’s leaders featured prominent in taking credit.
“After extensive efforts done by President Mahmoud Abbas, Salam Fayyad, and Hussein al-Sheikh along with Egyptian officials in negotiating with the Israeli side, which were successful, large quantities of industrial diesel this morning were pumped for the Gaza’s only power plant,” announced Nathmi Muhana, chairman of the PA’s Crossings and Border Authority.
Hamas quickly rushed out it own press release on the Egyptian delivery, quoting Sami Abu Zuhri, its official spokesman, saying: “This came after the fruitful efforts of Hamas government in Gaza and Hamas leaders to end the fuel shortage in Gaza. Thanks to Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of Hamas' government in Gaza, and Moussa Abu Marzaouq, Hamas leader, for making this happen.”
By Sunday, however, the Gaza Energy Authority announced that the plant would shut down again after the industrial diesel supplies were used up.