Gaza in the ‘heart of darkness’: When reality outdoes fiction

Situation piles further stress on Gaza population

In a small room in Gaza City, Lisa Masharawi reads by candlelight, dreaming of being able to study for her upcoming exams by the light that even a small generator could provide.
But for now, as Gaza struggles through the worst power crisis residents can remember, the flickering light of a candle is all that is available.
"The generator is noisy and the smoke it produces stinks, but it's a thousand times better than studying by candlelight," she says. "I hate the dark."
"How am I supposed to read by candlelight? How will I do well in my exams?"
Gaza has long been plagued by power outages, but an unusual interruption in the flow of smuggled fuel into the territory has exacerbated the situation, leading to blackouts of up to 18 hours.
Lisa's father, Abdul Sattar, used to use a generator, but there is no longer any fuel for it.
"I bought a small generator but there is no fuel because of the crisis," he said. "The situation right now is disastrous. We live on the fifth floor and it's always dark, so we're always worried about the children and about how they will be able to read or even climb the stairs."
Generators have become the norm across Gaza over the past few years, their din and exhaust fumes filling the air as locals run them to keep the lights on.
"A generator has become something essential in the lives of people in Gaza," says Mohammed, an employee at Mustafa Mortaji, the strip's largest importer of generators.
"About 80 percent of homes in Gaza have a generator... not to mention the companies, ministries and hospitals," he said.
On Omar al-Mukhtar street, shopkeepers conduct their business over the whirr of their generators.
Fadi Shakeek, who owns a shoe shop in Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in northern Gaza City, says shopkeepers "are suffering economically and psychologically" because of the electricity outages and fuel shortages.
"It's a financial burden that we have to bear," he says. "We are forced to run the generators from 5:00 am to 7:00 pm instead of until 11:00 pm and this has a negative effect on us and on the economic situation."
The smell of the fumes and the noise the generators produce "reduces the number of customers and increases tension. We don't know when the electricity will be on and when it will be cut," he says.
"Instead of talking about bread, people are talking about fuel and diesel and electricity. This is not a life."
Psychiatrist Samir Zaqut says the situation has piled further stress on Gaza's population of 1.5 million people.
"People in Gaza live under the Israeli blockade and under the weight of waiting for the next trauma," he said.
"This pressure puts an economic strain on people, in terms of additional costs -- and a social strain as well."
Children "are affected more than adults," he added. "This increases violent behaviour, which increases tension in the family, in a sort of cycle."
But some are looking at creative ways of overcoming the crisis.
At Gaza City's Shifa hospital, the largest health facility in the territory, they have found a partial solution by installing solar panels on the roof of the building.
And taxi driver Mohammed al-Assi, 27, whose job becomes impossible with no petrol, has found another way to keep his wheels on the road -- by using cooking oil.
"Cooking oil is expensive, but for a number of drivers, at least it's a solution," Assi said.
The frustration has brought out a sense of black humour in many Gazans.
The situation has become so bad that brides are insisting on putting: "Access to a generator" into their wedding contracts, jokes a 29-year-old woman who gave her name only as Sawsan.
Haj Abu Ahmed from Shati refugee camp has posted a sign on his house: "They cut the electricity: okay, we bought a petrol generator. They cut the petrol: okay, we bought a diesel generator. Now they've cut the diesel and there's nothing left for us but buy a generator that works on water!"
Others would rather not discuss the issue at all.
"Please do not talk about politics or electricity," reads a sign plastered on a taxi.