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Gaza Strip: Heat fuels frustration over living conditions

August 4, 2023

The ongoing heatwave in Gaza has made living conditions there even more unbearable. This has prompted rare protests in the territory, ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas.

Protesters gesticulating
Palestinians in Khan Younis went out briefly to protest difficult living conditions and chronic power outagesImage: AP/picture alliance

On July 30, several hundred people took to the streets in Gaza, mainly in the southern towns of Khan Younis and Rafah, to protest chronic power outages and the harsh situation for residents, which has been aggravated by ongoing hot weather.

The protests seemed to have been organized by an unknown group on social media calling itself "alvirus alsakher," or "the mocking virus." It is still unknown who is behind the name.

The scenes were a rare occurrence of public discontent under Gaza's authoritarian Islamist rulers, Hamas. In the past, Hamas has often suppressed protests or dissent. And this time, things seemed no different, with eyewitnesses saying that protesters were quickly dispersed by police officers, who also made some arrests. Authorities in Gaza did not respond to a request for comment.

Many people at the beach with brightly colored sun umbrellas
Many residents spend time at the beach, as here in Gaza City to escape the heat and frequent power cutsImage: Atia Darwish/Zuma/imago images

The protests come as the Gaza Strip, the small Palestinian territory on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, is experiencing the same unusually torrid summer as many other parts of the Middle East. Although summer weather in the territory is typically hot and humid, temperatures this year have stayed at high levels for an unusually prolonged period, making life there even more difficult than usual.

'A difficult and miserable life'

Shady, a college graduate from Khan Younis, said that power outages were one of the many reasons why he participated in the protests.

"Recent electricity shortages have made many people remember that they do not receive the minimum level of human treatment, even though we have been living in this situation for many years," the 24-year-old told DW by phone.

"We live a difficult and miserable life. There is no hope. We wanted to raise our voice so that someone can hear this voice. We are victims of the [Israeli] occupation and the Palestinian division."

Living with a blockade

Since Hamas seized control over Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, Gaza residents have been living under a strict blockade imposed primarily by Israel and partially by neighboring Egypt.

Hamas's takeover — or coup, as the group's rival Fatah calls it — cemented a political division between Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Hamas blames Israel's blockade for stifling any prospect of economic recovery or development in the territory.

Israel, for its part, says the blockade, which restricts access by sea, land and air, is needed to prevent a military buildup by the Islamist group, which denies Israel's right to exist. Hamas has been designated as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States. Israel and Hamas have already fought several wars.

Human rights groups and Gaza residents describe the crippling closure, which Israel occasionally loosens or tightens depending on political developments, as collective punishment. 

 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seated at table, holding up left index finger, other officials in the background
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C.), seen here in Egypt, heads the Palestinian AuthorityImage: Thaer Ganaim/apaimages/IMAGO

The protests may have been a bid to draw attention to the situation in Gaza while several Palestinian political parties, mainly Hamas and Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority and administers limited parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, were meeting in Egypt to discuss national unity, says Gaza-based political scientist Mkhaimer Abu Saada.

"The Palestinian youth here in Gaza wanted to raise their voice against their daily conditions on the day when leaders of the factions were meeting in Cairo so that they (the leaders) at least pay attention to their needs and their grievances," says Abu Saada, a professor at Al Azhar University.

In the end, however, the meeting failed to find ways to overcome the deep political division.

Crippling power cuts

Another main issue is the ongoing electricity shortage in the sweltering heat. The power outages affect all aspects of daily life: from refrigerating food to running basic appliances such as washing machines, laptops, water pumps or fans.

"Usually, we had a schedule of eight hours on, eight hours off, but because of the heat, the demand is high, and most households got only four to six hours on average," says Abu Saada.

Gaza's roughly 2.2 million residents endure power cuts averaging 12 hours a day in times of intense demand, such as summer. Depending on the season, the estimated electricity supply needed to provide continuous power to Gaza is 450 to 550 megawatts, says Mohammed Thabet, the spokesperson for the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO). Anything near this capacity has not been supplied for years, and that has led to long stretches of time when power outages are frequent.

Currently, Gaza's sole power plant supplies between 75-100 megawatts depending on the amount of fuel available. In recent years, Qatar assisted Gaza by purchasing the fuel for the power plant from Israel. But even when fuel is not short, the plant is not always running at full capacity because of comprehensive maintenance issues and long unrepaired damage.

An additional supply of 120 megawatts is purchased by the Palestinian Authority from Israel and supplied directly through power lines that connect to the Gaza Strip. In 2018, Egypt stopped a nominal additional power supply it used to provide to the southern Gaza Strip. On top of all this, over the years, disputes have occurred between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as to who is responsible for paying the bills for the Gaza Strip.

 Omar Al Mukhtar Street, one of Gaza City's main boulevards
The roughly 2.2 million Gaza residents endure power cuts for up to 12 hours a dayImage: Tania Krämer/Dw

But for some, the electricity crisis is merely a symbol of the overall dire situation. Analysts in Gaza say it is too early to tell whether protests like Sunday's could pose a challenge to Hamas.

"There was no mobilization effect, but [nonetheless] it means people are really fed up," says Usama Antar, a political scientist in Gaza City. This feeling of frustration is directed at both Hamas and Fatah, observers say, who seem to residents to be unable to solve any crisis.

That sentiment was echoed by Shady: "We are a generation that grew up under difficult circumstances, and we never had a single good day. I am 24 years old and have never traveled in my life," says the young Palestinian.

"We want to live in dignity, this is our goal. We may not achieve that by these protests, but at least we raised our voice."

Edited by: Tim Jones