In Gaza, a PR power struggle (JERUSALEM POST) By OMAR GHRAIEB / THE MEDIA LINE 03/27/12)
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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
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
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
If the finger-pointing goes in every conceivable direction, no one
takes issues with the fact that Gaza’s 1.4 million people are
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
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. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 03/27/12)
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