Israel’s control of every day life in the West Bank is suffocating the Palestinians
By MAHER ABU KHATER
Cars lined up outside a butane gas station in Ramallah last week waiting to fill their cylinders, which they’d later use for cooking or heating.
With a number of blizzards hitting the region, and recurring power cuts, the demand for heating gas in the West Bank has increased.
Workers at the station had informed their customers that a gas truck was on its way from Israel, the only supplier of gas and other fuel to the Palestinian territories. People waited for hours in the blistering cold but to no avail.
“We had to shut down the station when we ran out of gas,” says Raed Shamiah, general manager of the Golden Company for Filling Gas.
“This is something we really hate to do, particularly during cold [weather] because we know that people need the gas mainly to operate heaters in their homes,” he tells Newsweek Middle East.
But the gas shortage in the West Bank was neither Shamieh’s fault nor any of the dozen other gas stations across the Palestinian territories.
Palestinian officials said that severe weather conditions prevented ships transporting fuel from reaching the coast, causing the shortage.
However, they also pointed out that when Israel gets the gas, it makes sure that its own people get their supply first, and whatever extra amount remaining, if there is any left, Israel ships to the Palestinians.
The same goes for electricity.
The Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDEC), a Palestinian-owned private shareholding power supplier, buys electricity from Israel and then delivers it to Palestinians within its areas of concession in East Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jericho.
JDEC General Manager, Hisham Omari, said that if Palestinian demand for electricity exceeds the limit allowed by Israel, as is the case during winter, the company has no choice but to cut the electricity feed to some areas for several hours in order to provide enough voltage to other areas.
While the shortage in gas, electricity and other vital fuel is random in the West Bank, it is more acute and consistent in the Gaza Strip, where its 1.8 million residents can go for days without these services.
Gaza, which has been under a complete Israeli blockade for the past 10 years, depends on energy and other vital supplies coming solely from and through Israel.
Without control over their borders, roads, land, airspace, sea, monetary and business transactions, the 4.5 million Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip are completely dependent on what Israel, the occupying power, agrees to provide them with.
The salaries of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) 150,000 public and security personnel, including the president’s, come from some $100 million in taxes and customs, which Israel collects every month on goods imported by the Palestinians and destined for Palestinian areas, but have to come through Israeli ports.
If Israel decides to withhold the funds, as it has done many times in past years as a punishment and pressure tool against the Palestinians, employees could go for months without pay, suffocating not only the people but also the frail Palestinian Authority and its economy to the point of collapse.
“The Palestinian-Israeli Oslo accords of 1993, and the Paris Economic Protocols which followed and which state what and how much the Palestinians can import, allowed Israel to [to be] a gateway for the entry of everything to the Palestinian areas,” political analyst Jihad Harb tells Newsweek Middle East.
Israel not only controls the borders of the Palestinian territories, but it has continued to build illegal settlements and appropriate land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Thus, the Palestinians live under the mercy of the Israeli occupation and its military, which restricts their movements and daily activity, he adds.
Adding to Palestinians’ woes, between every Palestinian city and village in the West Bank, there are strips of land referred to in the Oslo Accords as Area C, which makes up more than two-thirds of the West Bank’s total area and falls under full Israeli military control.
The Israeli control of the aforementioned areas means that the Palestinians cannot build roads, extend electricity or water pipelines, or even travel between their towns and villages without an Israeli permission.
An example to the hardship the Palestinians face in attempting to develop their towns is the case of Palestinian entrepreneur Bashar Masri.
Masri, in partnership with the Qatari Diar real estate company, built the residential city of Rawabi, the first and only Palestinian development project in the West Bank to be approved by Israel after its occupation of the region in 1967.
But Masri had to wage a long and exhausting battle to gain Israel’s permission to pave an access road and extend water pipelines through Area C to the project.
Before Israel finally allowed him, only three months ago, to extend the pipelines from nearby Ramallah, Masri was about to declare bankruptcy, he says.
It took the intervention of the international community to pressure Israel to finally approve infrastructure works and allow the water to reach Rawabi city and save Masri’s project.
In addition to that, all cement, steel and construction-related material Masri had to use to build his city, and that are necessary to meet construction demands in the West Bank, come only from or through Israel.
In another example, it took Wataniya, a mobile company, four years of international intervention before it was allowed to extend its business to the Gaza Strip.
Wataniya is a local partner of the Kuwaiti Wataniya Group, which launched in the West Bank in November 2009.
Until today, Wataniya and its rival, Jawwal, a cellular phone company established in 1999, operate on a 2G network while the rest of the world has moved to 4G.
It was only last month that Israel allowed those two Palestinian companies to bring in equipment that would allow them to move to a 3G network, which may take another year to go live.
With Israel’s grip over most of the West Bank and annexation of East Jerusalem, as well as the construction of hundreds of settlements and the housing of hundreds of thousands of settlers in these areas, the Palestinians feel that their chance of ever having their own sovereign state is fast evaporating.