Sarah Salibi: Turn the Gaza Lights On
Imagine that you have to spend your night in utter darkness, to arrange your plan for each day according to a power-cut plan, or to force yourself into bed as there is nothing you can do other than to sit in the dark. Picture yourself studying for your exams using a candle, or spending all day long waiting for the electricity to come back, or walking in streets at night that are only lit by cars' headlights. If you find it hard to imagine all of these things combined, just seek the help of a Palestinian from Gaza. No one could explain it better.
It has been a week since the government announced the new electricity schedule. Yet I still find it very difficult to adapt to. Previously, power used to be off for 8 hours a day. We accustomed ourselves to that schedule despite the fact that it took us a while to get used to it.
The electricity crisis seems to be moving from bad to worse. Never better. Currently, we only get to see electricity for 6 hours a day. That means that power is off for 18 hours! When I heard the news about the new power-cut plan, I was stunned, my mind froze. I’m not sure how successful I will be at adapting myself to it. I got mad just wondering how I’ll get through the day. What should we do during the 18 hours of darkness? Or should the question be “How can we make the most of the 6 hours of electricity?” Should I Study? Use the Internet? Do the housework? Watch TV? Do the laundry? Ughhh! This is very confusing. Deciding what to do during the 6 hours with electricity is much harder than the 18-hour power-cut! What a busy 6-hours it’ll have to be!
What do we do during power cuts?
"What do you do during power cuts?” is a question I frequently start with during my English-teaching classes. The majority of my students choose to sleep so time passes faster or flee outside their homes to the streets to sit wherever there are lights.
I work as an English teacher from 11am until 6pm everyday at an English-teaching centre. One of my classes starts at 4pm and finishes at 6pm. It starts getting dark at 5pm in Palestine. I had to finish these classes earlier sometimes because of power-cuts. There is a fuel shortage at the center I’m teaching at which makes it hard to turn on the generator every day.
When I finally finish work, I keep praying all the way back home that there would be electricity there. However, I usually return to discover that my prayers weren’t met. Feeling very exhausted and hungry, I light a few candles to make lunch. As I have my lunch with the dim light of candles, I try to convince myself that I'm having a romantic lunch. I fail and a malaise falls on me quickly. This is never a romantic lunch. I didn't choose to have my lunch over candle lights. I was forced to as I didn’t have any other choice. When I finish my late lunch, I sit powerless staring at the darkness and waiting for the lights to turn on and for the generators’ noise to stop. Oh how slow time passes while waiting! The roar of generators keeps hovering over my head all night long.
My parents and my little brother and sister have started to sleep very early at night. They force themselves into their beds at 8 pm or sometimes even earlier. At 4 am they wake up voluntarily after they have enough hours sleep. Sometimes, my mother wakes up in the middle of the night. She deliberately leaves the lights on during power-cuts before she is off to bed, so when the power is back, some light disturbs her sleep so she can take advantage of it, turn on the washing machine, and then return to bed.
Electricity now controls our daily lives. It controls our sleeping and waking up times. It even decides for us whether to receive guests at home or not. Electricity interferes with every detail. Residents of Gaza are not the only ones affected by the power cuts. Their relatives abroad get their share of this daily suffering as well. I have two sisters in Malaysia pursuing their higher education. My mother used to skype them everyday, but now we can barely talk to them. There is either no electricity or a terribly weak Internet connection.
Ways to endure power cuts
My little brother tries very hard to entertain himself during power cuts. Our people are known for innovating means of entertainment. Once, he decided to buy cards "Shaddeh" for us to play during the daily power cuts. Shaddeh turned out to be great fun and great for killing time. We gather around a small table, light a candle and start playing shaddeh. We repeat the game over and over again until we get bored. One advantage power-cuts have brought to us is that our family spends more time together. My little brother and sister seem to enjoy powercuts because we, sometimes out of boredom, agree to play their ridiculous games.
History of power cuts
The people of Gaza have been suffering from power shortages since Israel bombed the power station in the Gaza strip in June 2006. Since then, the electricity crisis has gradually become worse. Power-cuts used to last for 8 hours before, but now we only get to enjoy electricity for 6 hours a day. The electricity crisis has a grave impact on all sectors of our lives and all residents of Gaza strip. It has become the main topic that everybody complains about. “Health and humanitarian conditions in Gaza are at risk due to electricity outage across the Gaza Strip,” The Minister of Health warned. Hospitals are unable to supply fuel to turn the generators on for the whole day. Patients are now at a real risk. In the thirst for electricity, many people had to buy generators powered by petrol. However, they had to pay a huge price for it. In some cases, people paid with their lives. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 30 people have died since the beginning of this year due to the unsafe use of generators.
Who's to blame?
The situation in Gaza is complicated. We don't really know who to blame for the current crisis. Israel? Egypt? Hamas and Fatah? Or all of them combined? Israel is imposing a suffocating siege on the Gaza strip turning it into an open-air prison. Egypt seems to be collaborating with our jailers in tightening the siege. The Egyptian Authorities have destroyed most of the tunnels along the Gaza border with Egypt and imposes a closure on the Rafah border, the only exit for our people outside the strip. Our people used to bring in fuel through the tunnels into Gaza which managed to ease our lives to some extent. Whoever is responsible for darkening the Gaza strip has to stop. Most of the Palestinians living here are under 18, where is the justification to collectively punish them? We have a right in Gaza to see light.
The condition in Gaza is becoming unbearable. Every day is another challenge for us. Each day we have to show steadfastness in order to survive and go on. Israel has deprived us of our very basic rights. It has deprived us of our land, our freedom, and our right to lead a normal life like any other human. I wonder when we will be able to stop worrying about such basic needs like electricity? On behalf of every civilian of the Gaza strip, I scream, LET OUR LIGHTS COME ON IN GAZA.
- Jabalya Refugee Camp-Gaza, Palestine
- This is Sarah Salibi from Gaza/Palestine. I hold an English literature degree from Al Azhar University.
Source: Sarah Salibi