'It's Like The Canals Of Venice In Gaza City, But With Rivers Of Sewage'

CAIRO -- In parts of Gaza City, raw sewage pouring into the streets has forced some residents to travel by boat.

Facing an already dire shortage of expensive gas from Israel, Gaza was forced to shut down its only power plant earlier this month after Egypt closed its Rafah border and began to destroy tunnels used to smuggle fuel. Since then, several feet of sewage water has poured into Gaza’s biggest city.

“It’s like the canals of Venice in Gaza City,” Majed Abusalama, a Gazan human rights activist, told The Huffington Post on Thursday. “But with rivers of sewage.”

Egypt’s Rafah border leading to Gaza -- home to some 1.7 million Palestinians -- has been closed for weeks at a time in recent months. Students, unable to leave or enter the Gaza Strip, have lost their scholarships. Patients seeking life-saving surgeries wait stranded at the border. And fuel that was sent across the border almost every day can no longer be transported.

Egypt also adopted a strict policy of destroying underground tunnels leading to Gaza following the ouster of its controversial Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Both Egypt and Israel say the tunnels are used to smuggle in weapons, but locals say tens of thousands of workers who made a living smuggling in everything from fuel to medicine to Hummers now have no source of income. And they warn they can’t survive for much longer without fuel.

Gaza City residents have electricity for sometimes only four hours a day now. Children have to choose to either miss class, or wade through raw sewage to get to school. Gas prices are skyrocketing, and many families don’t have any gas left, forcing them to cook over open fires. Gazans in neighborhoods not yet submerged in sewage have put up sandbags just in case.

As the fuel shortage and sewage crisis continue, already limited amounts of clean water are under threat. Houses might not be able to get clean drinking water if the pumps stop working. According to United Nations statistics from July, only one-fourth of Gazan homes get running water for a few hours a day, and a staggering 90 percent of water from Gaza’s only aquifer is not drinkable. By 2016, this aquifer might not be usable.

The New York Times reported that while many Gazans don’t have enough fuel for basic, everyday needs, some have pointed out that Hamas government cars are still running, seemingly unaffected by the fuel shortage.

Gazans not only have a sewage crisis to battle, they also have the everyday realities of living in what seems to be an endless conflict with Israel. On Tuesday, four Israeli air strikes hit the Gaza Strip following the launch of a rocket at southern Israel, an Israeli Defense Forces spokesman said, according to the AFP.

"In retaliation, the air force targeted a weapons workshop and two terrorist tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip,” the spokesman said. “As well as a location used for terrorist activities in the north."

Gazans are also tweeting that sonic boom raids are ongoing as of Thursday morning -- a tactic used by Israeli Air Force planes to break the sound barrier at a low altitude, sending shockwaves sounding like bombs. Israel has said that sonic boom air raids are nonlethal, but the United Nations insists they cause psychological harm, blow out windows, and damage schools and other buildings.

While Israel has long been viewed as the enemy by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, anger is boiling as Egypt continues to destroy smuggling tunnels and keep the border closed. Gazans now feel trapped -- and betrayed -- by both Israel and Egypt.

“We are angry with Egypt,” Majed said over a crackly Skype connection. “Palestinians and Gazans have a history with Egypt. People here expect oppression from the occupation -- not from our Egyptian brothers.”