“Everything stops,” says Daulat. She doesn’t just mean the refrigerator, the washing machine and other devices; this Palestine refugee mother means daily life in her neighbourhood of Shajaiya. “Electricity outages paralyze our entire life,” she explains. Since the Gaza Power Plant stopped operating, on 1 November, she’s had to change her entire routine: “I sleep when the electricity is off, and I wake up when it’s on.”
Power outages are something that Gaza has dealt with for years. Israel’s restrictions on the amount of fuel Gaza could import, together with supply from Egypt not always being reliable, meant regular cuts for homes and businesses, hospitals, schools and even basic infrastructure.
But after several years, the shortages have finally grown so severe that the plant can no longer operate at all. Blackouts now last for an average of 16 hours a day. With the essentials of daily life compressed into only a few hours, it is no wonder that Gaza and its residents – young and old, women, men and children alike – are tense and anxious.
For mothers like Daulat, the loss of power has upended their entire routine. For students like her daughter, 17-year-old Khitam, it means a threat to her future as well. She is in her last year of secondary school. “This is crucial for my future,” Khitam says. “I am afraid of how these outages will affect my studies and my achievement.”
The family can’t afford a generator or an emergency light, so Khitam has no option but to study by the light of candles or mobile phones. But candles have their own risks, Khitam adds. “Once, my mother woke up because she smelled smoke – the candle had fallen down on the mattress.”
They were able to extinguish the fire quickly, but now, Daulat stays up until everyone else has gone to bed, to make sure she blows out the candle. And then, until morning, there is darkness. Khitam explains that getting up at night means stumbling over furniture or running into walls; her brother, afraid of going to the bathroom in the dark, has been wetting the bed.
Khitam’s mother asks only that her daughter’s teachers consider the conditions under which the children of Gaza must study and try to learn. But Khitam asks the other question: “How long will this continue?”