Gaza on Verge of Collapse as Israel Sends 2.2M People 'Back to Middle Ages' in Electricity Crisis
Israeli-imposed restrictions have limited electricity in Gaza to barely four hours a day, creating a humanitarian catastrophe for its 2 million residents. In 2012, the World Health Organization warned that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020. The U.N. now says the area has already become unlivable, with living conditions in Gaza deteriorating faster than expected. We go directly to Gaza to speak with Raji Sourani, an award-winning human rights lawyer and director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza. We also speak with Tareq Baconi, author of the forthcoming book, "Hamas Contained: The Rise & Pacification of Palestinian Resistance." He is a policy fellow at Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Gaza, where Israeli-imposed restrictions continue to limit electricity to barely four hours a day, creating a humanitarian catastrophe for its 2 million residents. The Palestinian Authority has backed the Israeli siege in an attempt to isolate and weaken its political rival, Hamas, the group that has controlled Gaza for the last 10 years. Gaza has been under Israeli siege for more than a decade. In 2012, the World Health Organization warned Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020, but now the U.N. says the living conditions in Gaza have deteriorated faster than expected and the area has already become unlivable. This is the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for occupied Palestinian territory, Robert Piper.
ROBERT PIPER: I see this extraordinarily inhuman and unjust process of strangling, gradually, 2 million civilians in Gaza that really pose a threat to nobody. I don’t know—you know, we talk about the unlivability of Gaza. When you’re down to two hours a day of electricity, which is the case earlier this week, when you’ve got 60 percent youth unemployment rates, where you really do have such a little horizon, I—for me, and you probably, and most of the people watching, that unlivability threshold has been passed quite a long time ago.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the situation, we go directly to Gaza, where we’re joined by Raji Sourani, the award-winning human rights lawyer, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, on the executive board of the International Federation for Human Rights. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1991, was also twice named an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Raji. Can you talk about what is happening right now in Gaza?
RAJI SOURANI: Well, it’s the 50th anniversary of belligerent, criminal Israeli occupation, and it’s 11 years since the siege on Gaza has been imposed, which is illegal, inhuman and consists collective punishment. And at this moment, I mean, the siege on the peak, we are living the biggest man-made disaster. And as the Israelis promised, rightly, they will send us to the Middle Ages, and they do—Gaza completely disconnected from the outside world, subjugated during this period to three offensives by Israeli. In the eye of the storm were civilians and civilian targets. And after all these years, we are unable to rebuild or reconstruct most of these destructions.
This led us to a situation where almost 65 percent are unpaid or unemployed, 90 percent under the poverty line. And almost 85 percent of the population depends on UNRWA, World Food Program and other charities’ rations and food. Effectively, they are making Gaza animal farm, international community dumping some food and medicine. We cannot treat our water. We cannot treat our sewage, and our entire sea polluted and our water undrinkable. They put people in a situation where no hope for tomorrow and the people on the verge of collapse. There is 2 million people suffering this for the last 11 years.
The last thing, Amy, we are having, it’s the electricity. Used to be six, seven hours a day. Now we are having only two hours. And you can imagine the drastic effect for this on all aspects of life, on medical care, on operations, on dialysis, on heart surgeries, on people who are suffering, on the food stuff should be fridged, and so on. All aspects of life in Gaza on the verge of collapse, and we are sure the worst yet to come, every day the Israelis bringing evil mind and evil practice to this part of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Just can you describe, even in more detail, what it means not to have electricity? I mean, for people in any city—like New York years ago, we suffered the blackout. Obviously, it’s catastrophic. But explain what it means to have two—if you’re lucky, four—hours of electricity a day, how it affects daily living, how it affects the hospitals, how it affects the clean water, etc.
RAJI SOURANI: I mean, Gaza is one of the most densely populated area on Earth. And we are having buildings with 14, 16 stories now. And it’s mission impossible, I mean, to send water to these stories up, because you need electricity even to pump this unusable water. So, having water, most of Gaza, I mean, it’s not there. Second, the desalination factories, it doesn’t work. I mean, if it works, it works like two hours, which is not enough. Minimally, it should work like 20 hours a day to supply Gaza with water. The sewage factories cannot work. And because it cannot work, it cannot be treated, and the entire raw sewage dumped to the sea. And this affects, I mean, the entire sea, and it’s contaminated. And it’s—nobody can swim in it, because it’s totally polluted.
If you go to the meat store, you will find it, I mean, max for one day. The rest, I mean, they will send it to the garbage, because, you know, most of the people here, because they are poor, they depend on frozen meat and frozen fish imported from outside. They cannot store it, so it just gets bad, and it’s not for human use.
If you go to the hospitals, I mean, it’s the real disaster. Operation theaters cannot work, and the operations cannot be carried. Dialysis machines, most of the time, because they stop, they get, you know, interrupted and broken. So, many of the dialysis patients, I mean, cannot do that. All those who are in automatic respiratory systems or intensive care units, you can imagine, when you are lack of electricity, about that.
Even, I mean, simple things like housewives, I mean, they cannot use laundry. They cannot store food at their fridges and so on. Factories, it’s mission impossible, I mean, to make it work. I mean, Gaza almost with no ice cream, I mean, for the time being, or other kinds of food stuff needs, you know, electricity. Most of the Gaza, I mean, like 20, 22 hours a day, it’s dark. I mean, during the night, you cannot really have the light in the streets, and that’s what makes even the number of fatal car accidents, you know, happens here. And people, I mean, as a result of that, pay with their life.
And on the level of education, people who just want to go back from their schools, from their work, to the high stories, they cannot, I mean, you know, go up 14, 16 stories back and forth. You can imagine people who are sick, and he or she have heart surgery, want to get back, you know, go to the hospital or to be treated. It’s not normal life. We are just in the middle centuries, while we are paying a bill. It’s not less than of the cost than the European standard bill of electricity.
AMY GOODMAN: Raji Sourani, award-winning human rights lawyer, speaking to us from Gaza City. In the background, you hear a generator. Raji, can you talk about how the situation has gotten to this point? Talk about what the Israeli government is saying, what they’re saying about Hamas, and how you see some kind of solution coming out of all of this.
RAJI SOURANI: Well, I mean, on Gaza beautiful shores, I mean, we are having one of the biggest gas—gas wells in the Mediterranean. And all what we need is small pipe, I mean, coming to Gaza and to instill a factory for electricity, and then we can have factory for us and for the region maybe. But we are not lack of business people, of scientists. We are not lack of professionals. We are lack of opportunity.
The occupation wants us to be as such, living in such conditions. They want to shift Gaza to be not Hamas place, but ISIS country. When you put collectively 2 million people under such pressure, nobody can leave or come in. Movement of individuals, mission impossible. When you make them unable to receive developed medical care, when you make them unable to receive their basic needs of goods, when you make them disconnected from the outside world, when you make them unable to go and receive developed medical care outside or developed education outside, when they are not allowed to import and export normally and as they want, when you make the death and destruction around them day and night, when you make them lose hope of tomorrow, this is the recipe for ISIS, I mean, to exist in this part of the world, because what we are having here, the Qu’ran of ISIS, it’s the rule of jungle. That’s what we are having here.
And all what we are seeking, asking, rule of law, nothing less, nothing more. There is 2 million civilians living this in part of the world. They are subjugated. As even the ICRC, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, everybody says in the international arena and international community, this is illegal, inhuman, collective punishment, and should be imminently and completely lifted, and give people the right of movement. We are not asking anything more than what the rights enjoyed and should be ensured by the international community, the right has been guaranteed in international law and international humanitarian law. This is not a war crime. This is a crime against humanity. But we are seeing nobody moving in this regard. Nobody thinks, after 50 years, of having an end for occupation, if not an end of occupation, which is our right—it’s our absolute right on the individual and collective level—but at least, I mean, give us the right of movement, the right to be basically enjoying minimal conditions of human being. We are not. We are not.
AMY GOODMAN: Raji Sourani—
RAJI SOURANI: We are living these conditions, and situation deteriorating. Yeah?
AMY GOODMAN: Has the situation changed—
RAJI SOURANI: Sorry.
AMY GOODMAN: —in any way? What kind of effect has the new president in the United States, President Trump, had on the situation? And what do you feel that Americans can do?
RAJI SOURANI: Americans can do a lot, a lot. America is a great country, and they can contribute positively. President Eisenhower, in 1957, when Israel occupied Gaza, in one day, he ordered them to be out, and they were out.
And obviously, since President Trump came to his presidency, I think the Palestinians one of the scapegoats for his policy, and we are paying dearly and heavily, because he’s giving 100 percent support, from wall to wall, to a criminal Israeli policy against the Palestinian people. He doesn’t talk about end of occupation. He doesn’t talk about end of the Palestinians’ suffering. He doesn’t talk about a two-state solution. He is just leaving 100 percent control for the Israelis over the Palestinians. He didn’t criticize what American government, in very consecutive way, used to do by condemning settlements policy and the siege policy. He is doing nothing except supporting, endorsing the Israeli policy. Even criticizing Israel in the U.S. or the UNESCO, he consider it as a crime, and he gave the oath. And the representative of him in the U.N. Security Council said, "We will not allow anything happen against the state of Israel," as if Israel is little god, mini god, above a criticism, they are doing nothing.
It’s not what we are saying against Israel. Forget what Palestinian human rights organizations and civil society are saying against Israel. Look what the Israeli human rights organizations saying about the policies of Israel. Look to what B’Tselem is saying against Israel. Look to what all international human rights organizations, with no exception, criticizing Israel and the policies about war crimes and crimes against humanity. Even if we want to go and resort to the ICC, International Criminal Court, to hold Israel accountable, U.S. is threatening.
So, effectively, President Trump giving license to kill to Israel. They are giving them the authorization, full authorization, to do whatever they want against the Palestinian civilians. We are not in defense of Hamas or Fatah or PFLP. We are defense—in defense of the Palestinian civilians, who are—in international law, should enjoy absolute protection. And they are called in Geneva Conventions the protected civilians, meaning there is real obligation, by law, to Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Territories. And they are in the eye of the storm of the Israeli criminal policies in the Occupied Territories.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Raji Sourani, for joining us, joining us from Gaza City under these extremely difficult conditions, what the U.N. is calling "unlivable." Final 30 seconds that we have on the satellite with you, Raji, for your final comment?
RAJI SOURANI: We have no right to give up, and we will not give up. We have just, fair and right cause. We are strong, strong enough, because we are fighting for the rule of law, not for the rule of jungle, as Israel want. We will keep our level of moral superiority on a criminal occupation. We know we are not alone. Free, committed people across the globe standing with us. They are standing with justice, rule of law and dignity of human being.
AMY GOODMAN: Raji Sourani, joining us from Gaza City, award-winning human rights lawyer, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, on the executive board of the International Federation for Human Rights, received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Prize in 1991, twice named an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.
We, in New York, are joined by Tareq Baconi, who is the author of the forthcoming book, Hamas Contained: The Rise & Pacification of Palestinian Resistance, a policy fellow at Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network. And he has written a new article for The Nation titled "How Israel’s 10-Year Blockade Brought Gaza to the Brink of Collapse."
Very briefly, Tareq, you’re here in the United States, though, of course, you’ve also been in Gaza, but there is almost no coverage of what’s happening in Gaza here, so most Americans have no idea.
TAREQ BACONI: I think that’s absolutely right. I think the way that Gaza gets portrayed in American media is in one of two ways. It’s either portrayed as nothing more than a humanitarian catastrophe, you know, some sort of post-apocalyptic reality where life is catastrophic, which, of course, that is one side of the situation in Gaza. And the other way it’s often portrayed is as a terrorist haven, you know, as an enclave on the Mediterranean that is ruled by a bloodthirsty terrorist organization. And both those ways of portraying Gaza are extremely simplistic. They leave no room for understanding the complexities of the situation, for understanding what people in Gaza are facing on a human—on a human level, on a day-to-day basis. It dehumanizes everything about the Gaza Strip. So it removes any room for empathy or understanding the complexity, and it removes the fact that this is a political problem that’s man-made.
AMY GOODMAN: Have things gotten worse since President Trump took office?
TAREQ BACONI: Absolutely. I think things have gotten much worse, and in a very short period of time, for a number of reasons. I think what we’re seeing happening in the region, let’s say, between the GCC and Qatar now, is mirrored in the microcosm that is Gaza now, or the Palestinian territories. The way these countries have taken solace in the Trump administration, the way they’ve started to move against, quote-unquote, "Islamic extremism," we see that happening on a very small scale within the Palestinian territories. So, President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision in the West Bank to start tightening the blockade, although it’s informed by local politics, as well—and we can talk about that—but it’s very much a signal to the Trump administration to say, you know, "This is—I’m taking a tough stance against Islamic extremism. I’m taking a tough stance against Hamas. If there’s a peace process that’s going to start, I’m your man on the ground." And so this message plays into this rationale of isolating the Gaza Strip and of using 2 million inhabitants as political pawns.
AMY GOODMAN: Your sense of, right now, Israel vis-Ã -vis Hamas and the victims being the 2 million people who are in Gaza right now? What do you see as the solution?
TAREQ BACONI: Look, I think Gaza has long been a problem for Israel, even before Hamas was even created, let alone come into power. So the idea that the Israeli policies towards the Gaza Strip are somehow informed by Hamas is a misreading of the history of the situation. You know, the reason that Gaza presents such a problem for the Israelis is because they’re a majority refugees, they have political rights, they’re demanding their political rights. And so Hamas, in a way, presents Israel with a fig leaf, with an excuse to maintain the policies of isolation and the policies of containment. So, even if Hamas were to be removed from the equation tomorrow, the policies that are in Gaza aren’t necessarily going to change. And so, to my mind, until we start dealing with Gaza as a political problem rather than an economic problem or religious problem, until we start addressing the political drivers that animate resistance from Gazans—the right of return, the right to self-determination—Dr. Sourani spoke very eloquently about the right to live and the freedom of movement—until we start talking about these political rights, the situation in Gaza isn’t going to change.
And the U.S. has a big role to play in that. The U.S. has, not just under the Trump administration, but under previous administrations, as well, played a very strong role in supporting Israeli policies to divide the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and to prevent any form of unity government between the PA and Hamas from emerging. The blockade is not criticized at all by the U.S., even though it is a form of collective punishment and even though it also comes with, you know, three military assaults that resulted in thousands of deaths, of civilian deaths, that are disproportionate, and crimes against humanity. And so, until we start addressing Gaza as a political problem, not as a humanitarian problem, until we start seeing it as part and parcel of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, nothing will change.
AMY GOODMAN: Tareq Baconi, I want to thank you for being with us. His forthcoming book, Hamas Contained: The Rise & Pacification of Palestinian Resistance. Thanks so much.
TAREQ BACONI: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll link to your piece in The Nation.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a Haitian resident of New York with four U.S. citizen children has a check-in with immigration authorities Thursday morning. He fears he will be deported. We’ll speak with him and his daughter. Stay with us.