Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Mohammed Arafat | 26-10-2017

Gaza's only power plant burns during the 2014 Israeli assault.

Everyone who follows news about Gaza (which sometimes I think are very few) knows how short we are on electricity, a commodity that is so basic most other people around the world take it for granted. These days, we are “blessed” with only about four hours of power a day—forcing every aspect of our life to be calibrated according to when we have electricity.

Gaza has only one power plant of its own, which runs on fuel purchased from Israel, supplemented by the Egyptian electrical grid when available and donations from countries such as Turkey and Qatar. However, the power plant can only run at reduced capacity, since it has been damaged repeatedly in past wars, with repair parts not allowed in due to the Israeli blockade. In addition, each link in the supply chain is at the mercy of politics and manipulation—and the result is a chronic shortage, with Gaza’s 2 million people the victims.

What most people don’t know, however, is that if allowed, Gaza could be energy-independent: It has its very own gas field, off the coast in the Mediterranean. While surfing the internet, I found a 17-year old article about the field, reporting that the late Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, had given the green light to start gas exploration. 

“This gas field is a gift from God,” Arafat said in 2000. “In this historic moment, I feel that God is helping us despite the obstacles we have, and this gas field is a gift from him for the people of Palestine and our future generations.”

Discovered 28 years ago, the Gaza Marine Gas Field is located 30-36 kilometers (19-22 miles) off the coast, at a depth of 603 meters. The field’s estimated reserves are about one trillion cubic feet. That’s not large enough to allow Palestinians to export, but it could allow us to be self-sufficient—providing electricity as well as cooking gas.

Arafat also believed the field would lead to peace between Palestinians and Israelis “because this will make Palestinians depend on themselves and self-sufficient.” And in fact, the president of the Palestinian Power Authority at the time, Abdul Rahman Hamad, expected that extraction would start in 2003. In preparation, a license for exploration and production was awarded to BG Group, a major British oil and gas company.

Unfortunately, the First Intifada ignited in September 2000, and Israeli forces prevented Palestinian access to the gas field (in contravention of the 20-mile Palestinian zone of control set by the 1993 Oslo Agreements). That blockade continued when Hamas won control of the Gaza Strip. According to Al-Shabaka, Israel initially prevented the development of the field to assure it could buy the gas on commercially favorable terms. It was only later, after Israel discovered its own resources, that it began citing “security concerns” as an excuse for preventing development.

Many Palestinian officials and journalists argue that the gas field was a driving force behind Israel’s three wars against Gaza, with one of the goals to prevent Palestinians from having independent energy resources—and thus, taking a key step toward real independence.

A confrontation now is brewing, since one of the first steps of the Palestinian consensus government is to develop a plan to capitalize on this treasure. Developing the field would cost an estimated $1.4 billion, while saving Palestinians about $8 billion per year.

“We are finalizing all of the needed procedures to start extracting gas from the field,” says the acting head of the Palestinian Power Authority, Zafer Melhem. Although BG has since been acquired by Shell, which announced its plans to withdraw from the project this year, Palestinian government officials say they are forging new deal with a Greek company.

Zafer says the extracted gas will be used to generate electricity for both Gaza and the West Bank (through a plant in Jenin), and will be available by 2020.

Yet, Israeli authority hindered installing gas pipes in the station recently, and it needed to only use its own pipes for transferring the gas.

The bottom line: Independence is the dream of every Palestinian. We could achieve that if allowed; we have everything we need. But will we be allowed to breathe on our own, or kept on life support?

Posted: October 25, 2017

Mentor: Pam Bailey

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