Over the past week, there have been dozens of news stories about the power plant in Gaza City that ran out of fuel. A typical one is this from AP:
Palestinian energy officials say fuel shortages have forced them to shutter the Gaza Strip’s lone power plant, causing blackouts in the impoverished territory.
Gaza’s energy authority has until recently relied on fuel smuggled from Egypt to circumvent an Israeli blockade. But shortages in Egypt have halted the smuggling.
There is only one problem: The story is entirely wrong. There was no Israeli blockade on fuel.
Israel at first sent fuel to Gaza through the Nahal Oz crossing. After terrorist attacks on that crossing, Israel moved the transfer of fuel to the Kerem Shalom crossing, and even doubled its capacity.
Israel continued to transfer fuel to Gaza, with one week in November 2010 seeing some 1.7 million liters transferred via Kerem Shalom. The only limitations on both power plant fuel and fuel for cooking gas and other needs was Palestinian demand.
Suddenly, in January 2011, that demand disappeared. Hamas started refusing shipments of fuel from Israel. The main reason was that smuggled fuel from Egypt was cheaper – because Egypt subsidizes fuel costs, and the smugglers passed on that savings to Hamas. Hamas, in turn, imposed a 150% tax on the smuggled fuel, turning it into a very lucrative business.
In recent weeks, Egypt started cracking down on fuel smuggling, because there were local shortages of fuel and butane cylinders in the Northern Sinai that were leading to serious unrest among the locals. Egypt, reasonably, cracked down on the smuggling business – a business that Hamas had by now come to rely upon for basic services to work in Gaza.
Even after the current crisis started, Egypt offered to transfer fuel to Hamas through the pipeline at Kerem Shalom, as the Rafah crossing does not have the capacity to handle massive daily fuel shipments. Hamas refused, insisting instead that the fuel come straight from Egypt, bypassing Israel.
Now, Hamas is holding its own citizens hostage, using the specter of hospitals and water treatment plants going dark as emotional blackmail to get a reliable supply of cheap fuel from Egypt.
And during all this time, Israel has been ready and available to send over any amount of fuel that Gaza needs.
It is not only news reporters who are getting the story wrong. Human rights NGOs have completely swallowed the Hamas narrative that Israel is somehow at fault for the shortages as well. Al Mezan said “This shortfall is a result of the Israeli Occupation Forces’ (IOF) continued suspension of delivery of industrial fuel” and Oxfam was quoted as saying “Since Israel put Gaza under total blockade in 2007, only limited amounts of fuel for Gaza’s power plants were allowed to enter the enclave, prompting the government in Gaza to procure fuel from Egypt through the Rafah tunnels.”
Meanwhile, the only reliable source for electricity in Gaza comes from Israeli power lines.
The meme that Israel is at fault for the Gaza fuel shortage is pervasive – and completely wrong. Yet very few journalists and Palestinian Arabs are telling the truth, that Hamas has created and cynically manipulated an artificial crisis to pressure Egypt to provide inexpensive fuel to the enclave, to be taxed handsomely by the terrorist leadership of Gaza.