The headline news in Britain for the past few days has been about the “Beast from the East” and the Siberian blast which has turned the UK snow white, and threatens to do so for the next few days. As if in a competition to see who is enduring the heaviest snowfall, social networks have been full of images of snowy land- and cityscapes, blocked roads and closed airports; I’m as guilty as everyone else, by posting images of the very snowbound Scottish Borders.
Although the snow has brought some death and destruction to Britain, it was still with enormous guilt and shame that I read the latest monthly newsletter from British charity Interpal and discovered that the Gaza Strip’s only power plant is not working. It stopped operating in mid-February due to fuel shortages, which will, no doubt, have a massive impact on the lives of the two million Palestinians living in the besieged enclave.
This crisis really serves to expose our own self-indulgent snow-moaning. While we in Europe are comparing temperature drops and snowfall levels, very few mainstream news outlets have bothered to report the disastrous consequences of a major power plant which is not working in winter. Can you imagine the headlines if Britain was plunged into darkness, with or without the snowfall? The government in Gaza knows only too well the consequences and was forced to declare a state of emergency.
Three hospitals and 16 medical centres have now stopped offering key services in recent weeks because of the crippling fuel shortages caused by the Israeli-led blockade and exacerbated by the power station shutdown. As Israel maintains its near total siege by land, sea and air, Egypt is just as rigorous in policing the Rafah border and the network of tunnels used to smuggle basic essentials. To make matters worse, the corrupt Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank is encouraging the siege on its own people and has imposed punitive measures on the Gaza Strip, some of which are linked to the electricity crisis.
It may well be, of course, that the media just don’t think the situation in Gaza is newsworthy, because it has been bad for so many years. “It is worth noting that, in reality, Gaza has actually been in a comprehensive state of emergency for years,” Interpal points out. “The Israeli-led blockade, now in its eleventh year, has left residents without some of the most basic necessities for survival.” The crisis is old news.
“It is an everyday reality for the people of Gaza to be unable to fuel their vehicles, cook and preserve food or access healthcare services,” the charity adds. “The enclave’s sewage systems are completely overwhelmed, with up to 90 million litres of partially-treated or raw sewage discharged into the Mediterranean Sea every day.”
This has been going on for years, and it’s getting worse. Think about it; fuel is needed for almost every activity necessary to keep communities going.
“Farmers and fishermen need fuel to run their vehicles and fishing boats, and agricultural livelihoods are suffering,” explains Interpal. “Even if they have the fuel, Gaza’s fishermen are still prevented by the Israeli navy from using all of their own territorial waters, never mind going into really deep water to allow inshore fishing stocks to replenish themselves. Boats and lives are threatened if they try to exercise their legitimate rights”. Indeed, one fisherman was killed by Israel on Sunday; two others were wounded in the attack.
It seems that in the West we have become so consumed by our own relatively minor dramas that we are immune to the very real problems being endured on a daily basis by the Palestinians and others in dire need across the Middle East. Do we know and care about what has happened in Mosul? Fallujah? Eastern Ghouta? This self-immunisation applies to the media as well, who don’t seem at all bothered by UN predictions that Gaza will become “unliveable” by 2020.
Has anyone really stopped to think about that? Just let it sink in for a few seconds: Gaza will be “unliveable” by 2020. The Palestinians, if they see the headlines in the West, must wonder what they have to do to get any attention at all.
The reality is that in a few days’ time all the hysteria in Britain and across Europe will have subsided and T-shirts will be printed bragging about how we survived the great winter of 2018. Meanwhile, in Gaza the Palestinians will be digging more graves for those who didn’t survive the latest crisis.
It’s time for us all to get our priorities right and stop being so introspective and self-obsessed over the odd minor challenge that comes our way. Ask yourself this: would you rather be hunkered down, albeit snowbound, in a warm home for a few days knowing that you will emerge unscathed; or would you rather sit in the gloom and darkness of a leaky shelter in Gaza knowing that the future looks grim for the tiny enclave which has been isolated from the rest of the world for more than a decade?
Shortages of essential goods, services and supplies aside, the Palestinians also have to contend with the fact that they live next door to a violent, psychopathic military state which has waged three wars against them over the past decade in the Gaza Strip, killing innocent men, women and children by the thousands. If they survive the cold or hunger or lack of clean water, there’s always the threat of being wiped out by bullets, bombs and missiles courtesy of the occupation state of Israel.
So let’s face it, apocalyptic Gaza throws the “Beast from the East” into very sharp perspective. While Israel complains about existential threats and attacks on its legitimacy, in the real world there is only one people whose very existence in occupied Palestine is at risk. No prizes for guessing who they are.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.