AP Blackout on the Facts

The first week of January, Palestinian statements about Gaza power shortages resulting from Israeli fuel cuts had an electric effect at the influential Associated Press. The international wire service ran not one, but two news stories stressing the Israeli-imposed hardship on the Gazan population (“Gazans to live with 8-hour daily power outages because of Israeli fuel cutbacks,” Jan. 6, 2008, by Ibrahim Barzak, and “Gazans facing 8-hour daily power outages because of punitive Israeli fuel cutbacks,” Jan. 7, 2008, by Sarah El Deeb).

“Palestinians in Gaza will be forced to live without electricity eight hours a day, beginning Sunday, because Israel has sharply reduced fuel supplies to the territory’s only electric plant, the head of Gaza’s energy authority said,” began the Barzak article.

Likewise, his colleague El Deeb wrote: “Gaza electricity cuts caused by Israel’s reduction in fuel supplies mean an especially hard winter for impoverished Palestinians, Gaza’s top energy official warned, and human rights groups asked Israel’s Supreme Court to stop the cutbacks.”

In contrast, an Israeli decision less than a week later to restore fuel supplies to its earlier levels was met by an AP news blackout. In a news brief Jan. 11, Ha’aretz reported:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has decided to cancel planned cuts in the supply of industrial-use diesel fuel to the Gaza Strip, and bring the supply back up from 1.75 million liters per week to 2.2 million liters per week, according to a statement given to the High Court of Justice by the state prosecution. The industrial-use diesel fuel is used to Gaza’s power plant [sic]. The High Court met Thursday to debate a petition filed by several human rights organizations against the cuts in Israeli-supplied fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip, in response to the ongoing Qassam rocket fire. Israel decided a few days ago to cancel planned cuts in the supply of diesel intended for use in cars. The court will hold a hearing next month on the electricity cuts.

The AP did not report on this development, despite their reporters’ intensive coverage on Gaza’s power shortages just a few days earlier. Moreover, the correspondents’ original articles were riddled with factual errors and falsehoods.

For instance, El Deeb wrote:

On Sunday, Kanan Obeid, chairman of Gaza’s Hamas-run energy authority, said Gaza has only 35 percent of the power its 1.5 million residents need after fuel supplies were cut nearly in half.

Similarly, Barzak reported one day earlier:

On Sunday, Kanan Obeid, chairman of Gaza’s Hamas-run energy authority, said Gaza now has only 35 percent of the power its 1.5 million residents need. Israel supplies all of Gaza’s fuel and 60 percent of the impoverished territory’s electricity.

Is Obeid’s statement, which the AP accepts at face value, accurate? To answer this question, it is first necessary to determine what Gaza’s electricity needs are. A Jan. 8, 2008 report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reported that as of November 2007, Gaza consumed 202 MW of electricity, originating from three sources: the Gaza Power Generating Company (GPGC) (65 MW), the Israel Electrical Company (120 MW), and Egypt (17 MW). It goes on to predict an increased demand over the winter, stating:

The Palestinian Energy and Natural Resource Authority estimated that demand from December to February would rise from 202 megawatts to 230.

If Obeid was right that Palestinians had only 35 percent of the 230 MW of electricity they reportedly require, then they had only 80.5 MW. Is this indeed the case? No, because the fuel reductions only affected the electricity production at the Gaza Power Generating Company. Thus the Israeli and Egyptian sources of electricity — totalling 137 MW or 60 percent of the strip’s electricity needs — were completely unaffected by the fuel cut.

But the Gaza population had even more than 60 percent of the fuel it needed because the Gaza plant continued to generate electricity after the Israeli fuel cuts, albeit as a reduced rate. In a Jan. 6 signed affidavit to the Israeli High Court, Rafiq Maliha, the project manager of the Gaza Power Generating Company, declared under oath that “because of the shortage of industrial diesel, we have reduced local production of electricity by approximately 30%…. We are currently producing only 45 megawatts, instead of the 65 megawatts we were able to produce last week.” So in addition to the 137 MW from Israel and Egypt, Gaza has another 45 MW from its local plant. Thus, with a total of 182 MW, the Gaza Strip had 79 percent of the power it needed, more than double the amount Obeid claimed and the AP reported without challenge.

UNOCHA data confirms that Obeid’s figure was greatly exaggerated:

As around 2 PM on 5 January 2008, as the emergency fuel reserves ran out, GPGC began to cut power production and reduced supply to the Gaza electrical grid. Therefore, local electricity production has been reduced by approximately 35%, and the total amount of electricity supplied to Gaza by all sources has been reduced by 12%.

Where else did Obeid mislead, aided by a credulous Associated Press? As mentioned above, AP’s El Deeb had paraphrased Obeid as saying that “fuel supplies were cut nearly in half.” On Oct. 28, 2007, Israel did reduce the amount of diesel fuel sent to the Gaza Strip for use at Gaza’s power plant, but not nearly by half. (The industrial diesel fuel that Israel sends to the Gaza Strip is suitable only for the power plant.) As the aforementioned UNOCHA report states: “Israel has reduced the amount of industrial gasoline it allows into Gaza by 16 per cent since October 28 last year.” Elsewhere, the same report notes: “Fuel deliveries to the Gaza power plant have decreased from 300,000 to 249,000 liters per day.”

* See related article, “Empowering Lies,” by Professor Barry Rubin, Director of Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA).

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