Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip shapes people’s lives in many different ways. In this episode, we focus on the chronic energy shortage. Energy is needed for much more than turning on the lights; water, sewage, and hospitals, schools, farms, and factories — they all depend on a steady supply of electricity.
First, producer Max Freedman speaks with Tania Hary, executive director of Gisha, to learn why Gaza’s energy infrastructure can only meet about half of the demand. Then, the story of Majd Mashharawi: a young engineer and entrepreneur who is harnessing Gaza’s most plentiful natural resource — sunlight — to bring power to her people.
Tania Hary is the executive director of Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. Prior to joining Gisha in September 2007, Tania worked on advocacy initiatives for not-for-profit organizations promoting human rights and the rights of refugees. She received her B.A. in modern literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz and an M.A. in international affairs from the New School in New York. Tania is relied upon as a source of information and analysis on the situation in Gaza by diplomats, foreign offices and international organizations, and appeared before the Security Council in an Arria formula meeting in 2015.
As a resident of war-torn Gaza, Majd Mashharawi observed the acute need for access to construction material in order to rebuild damaged buildings and infrastructure. She strove to meet this need by founding GreenCake in 2015,a company that creates environmentally friendly bricks from ash and rubble. In the summer of 2017, she developed SunBox; an affordable solar device that produces energy to alleviate the effects of the energy crisis in Gaza, where access to electricity has been severely restricted, sometimes to less than three hours of electricity a day. With SunBox, she was able to provide electricity to hundreds of people and recently awarded MIT Pan Arab competition for that. She received her BSc in Civil Engineering from the Islamic University of Gaza. In 2018 she was selected as one of the most creative people in business and spoke at TEDwomen 2018.
Monem Awad AKA Fawda, “الشمعة بريئة (The candle is innocent)”
SunBox’s crowdfunding campaign on LaunchGood
“How I’m making bricks out of ashes and rubble in Gaza” (Majd Mashharawi, TEDWomen 2018)
“What is Green Cake and why did this woman invent it?” (BBC World Hacks, November 3, 2018)
“The Gaza electricity crisis - FAQs” (Gisha, updated January 2018)
“Hand on the Switch: Who’s responsible for Gaza’s infrastructure crisis?” (Gisha, January 2017)
“A Costly Divide: Economic repercussions of separating Gaza and the West Bank” (Gisha, February 2015)
“Gaza’s breadwinners defiant in the face of Palestinian Authority salary cuts” (Middle East Eye, February 20, 2019)
[MUSIC: “The Candle is Innocent”]
MAX FREEDMAN: The voice you’re hearing is Monem Awad, who lives in the Jabaliya refugee camp north of Gaza City and raps under the name Fawda, which means chaos in Arabic.
The music video for this song is set in a dark apartment. In between shots of Fawda rapping to the camera and into a mirror, we see a small girl with a candle.
“We can only express our anger on Facebook,” he starts. The news suppresses the truth, politics is a trap. Eventually, he names three children: Rahaf, Yusra, and Nasser. “You are in heaven now,” he tells them, “and I’m sorry for everything bad you had to live through in this country.”
Then comes the chorus:
“Who is responsible and who should be blamed?
The candle is innocent. You are oppressed.”
Rahaf, Yusra, and Nasser Mohammed Ali Al-Hindi died on May 6, 2016, after their house caught fire from the candles they were using for light.
According to the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, between 2010 and 2016, 29 people in the Gaza Strip died in accidental fires that began this way. 24 of them were children. The reason families like this one have to use candles for light is because there is a chronic shortage of energy in the Gaza Strip.
This chronic energy shortage is only one consequence of Israel’s blockade of Gaza since 2007. The blockade shapes people’s lives in many different ways, but in this episode, we’re focusing on the energy crisis. Because we use energy for much more than turning on the lights. Water, sewage, and hospitals, schools, farms, and factories, all depend on a steady supply of electricity.
We’ll talk about why that steady supply of electricity isn’t available; and hear from a young engineer and entrepreneur who is harnessing Gaza’s most plentiful natural resource — sunlight — to bring power to her people.
My name is Max Freedman, and you’re listening to Gaza: a series from Unsettled.
[MUSIC: Unsettled theme]
MAX: Living in a city like New York, it’s easy to take electricity for granted. I turn on a light switch, I plug in my phone, and the power is just… there. Of course, nothing is just there.
In short, here’s how it gets there:
At a power plant, fuel — coal or natural gas or ideally something less destructive — is used to heat up water until it turns into steam. That steam goes into a machine which converts it into energy. That energy gets to us through what we call the grid: a massive network of interconnected wires and devices that your home or business is probably plugged into.
All of this infrastructure exists in the Gaza Strip. It just doesn’t work.
TANIA HARY: There are kind of government systems in place that are managing these mechanisms just like they are in in New York City.
MAX: This is Tania Hary, executive director of the Israeli NGO Gisha, which advocates for freedom of movement for Palestinians, especially Palestinians in Gaza.
TANIA: The difference is is that Israel controls the borders of the Gaza Strip and it controls all movement of people and goods going into and out of the strip. Of course there's the Egyptian crossing but all of the goods that would come in for the infrastructure are coming in through Israel.
MAX: The energy crisis is complicated, but in some ways it does actually come down to supply and demand. The supply of available energy in the Gaza Strip is only about half of the demand from the 2 million people who live there.
So why can’t supply keep up with demand?
[MUSIC: “Clay Pawn Shop”]
MAX: Let’s back up for a second: Gaza was directly controlled by Israel from 1967 to 2005. During that time, there was virtually no investment in independent energy infrastructure within Gaza. Gaza was completely dependent on Israel’s electric company.
Gaza finally got its own local power plant in 2002, but its potential was never fully realized because of limitations of the grid. Then in 2006, after the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, that power plant — the first and only power plant in the Gaza Strip — was bombed by Israel.
TANIA: And that was the real start of the crisis that we know today.
MAX: The population continued to grow but the infrastructure didn’t develop to keep up with that growth.
To make matters much worse, after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, Israel began severely restricting the movement of people and goods across the border.
You can listen to the last episode of our series for more information about the rise of Hamas and how Israel has dealt with Hamas as a governing power in Gaza. Israel justifies its blockade of the Gaza Strip by citing security concerns. To put it bluntly: Nothing can come in that might be used for terrorism, and no one can leave who might engage in terror.
But many observers say the blockade is primarily political. Israel is punishing Palestinian civilians for having elected Hamas and putting pressure on them to stir up discontent against Hamas.
And what is allowed over the border says just as much about the blockade as what isn’t. For eight years, Gazan produce could not be sold on the Israeli market, stifling an important part of the Gazan economy. When that restriction was finally eased:
TANIA: Interestingly enough the two products the two agricultural products that could go out to Israel were tomatoes and eggplants. Now you could ask yourselves why tomatoes and eggplants. Why not strawberries which Gaza is famous for producing. And the reality was that at the time there was a shortage of those products on the Israeli market. There was a demand for them and when there was a will suddenly there was a way.
[MUSIC: “Clay Pawn Shop”]
MAX: Israel puts the most severe restrictions on what are called “dual-use items” - anything that could conceivably have a military purpose as well as a civilian one. This frequently means that necessary fuel and equipment can’t get into Gaza.
TANIA: The development of the infrastructure system is dependent on this movement of people and movement of goods. And of course it's also dependent on the economy. All of these things are interconnected. If people can't pay their bills you're not going to have enough sources of funds to maintain and develop infrastructure. If spare parts can't come in. You can't build lines and expand the network.
MAX: And yes, Israel has a heightened responsibility in this because of its ongoing control over access to the Strip. But there are other players, too.
There’s Hamas, of course, and its ongoing factional conflict with Fatah, which governs from Ramallah in the West Bank.
TANIA: Ramallah and Gaza have to cooperate basically to get anything done.
MAX: And because they don’t cooperate, they can’t get new projects off the ground, or even pay their employees who manage water and power on a daily basis.
Then there’s Egypt, which is supposed to provide a small percentage of Gaza’s electricity, but doesn’t maintain its power lines.
And then there’s international NGOs. They like to invest in projects, but not in ongoing costs. So for example, they might build a big desalination facility that they can put their name and logo on, but they're not going to necessarily pay for the electricity needed to run that facility.
Overall, there's not one central authority making decisions in a logical organized way on behalf of the general population.
TANIA: You have Hamas you have the P.A. you have the international community you have Israel and they're all playing a role and none of them can act independently. Right. So Israel can't plan a new system and then implement it. And nobody asked it to right. The P.A. is not that interested right now in investing in Gaza. The international community is afraid to invest because they don't want their investment to be bombed. And that's what's tended to happen during the military operations is like bombing of infrastructure. Hamas has other priorities. They think that their people can continue to kind of suffer through until God knows what. So they're not necessarily using their own money to invest in the system.
So it's it's like just lopsided and messy and chaotic and you have these companies the actual electricity company struggling in this situation of like four overlords basically trying to do what it can trying to get the budgets it needs trying to get the parts and trying to get the fuel. Suddenly there's a donation from Qatar. Suddenly there's a project that the U.S. is supporting. Suddenly there's this. You know.
[MUSIC: “Vulcan Street”]
MAX: All this combined is why supply doesn’t meet demand. So what are the consequences of the demand not being met?
TANIA: Everyone in Gaza rich and poor are dealing with the electricity crisis.
MAX: On the household level, that translates to anywhere between 4 and 12 hours of electricity available per day. If you have the means, then you can invest in a generator for your home, and buy fuel to power the generator, so that you can turn on the lights even when the electricity is out.
TANIA: But if you don't have the means and unfortunately most of the population doesn't have the means you're basically living in those hours when the electricity comes back on. And then it's a frenzy in those hours when it's on to try to get everything done that you need to do.
MAX: And lack of electricity impacts nearly every aspect of life in Gaza.
TANIA: First of all the water and sewage network. Water and electricity go hand-in-hand. You can't have clean water. You can't have sewage being treated without large quantities of electricity.
MAX: Some households only get water three or four days a week.
TANIA: You have for example raw sewage and untreated sewage being just dumped into the sea on a daily basis. It can reach over a hundred thousand litres per day.
MAX: Hospitals in Gaza have to juggle their electricity supply, prioritizing certain wards over others. They make up for inconsistent power by running very large generators, but that creates its own problems.
[Music: “Emmit Sprak”]
TANIA: There are a few seconds in between when the electricity coming from the lines turns off and when the generator power kicks in. And in those precious moments you have nurses and doctors who are literally hand pumping oxygen to patients in the hospitals praying for the electricity to come on quickly.
Gaza is a modern society. Of course it's a place that has been de-developed where there's a lot of poverty but it's a modern society and people are studying at universities there are hospitals there are businesses and um just like you and me they they need electricity in order to do the normal things that we do every day.
And so you can imagine that in a situation where you only have four hours per day eight hours per day twelve hours on the best of days you can imagine how that stunts growth. It stunts normal life. It stunts development and really for no good reason.
MAX: The scale of the problem can seem insurmountable. But not to Majd Mashharawi.
MAJD MASHHARAWI: So my name is Majd Mashharawi I'm 24 years old. I grew up in Gaza and I live in the middle of the city.
MAX: Her grandparents came to Gaza City as refugees in 1948.
MAJD: And our family in Gaza is one of the biggest families. Yeah.
MAX: So if I went to Gaza there are a lot of people with your name.
MAJD: Yes. You can just say like “Mashharawi family.” “Oh!”
[MUSIC: “Noe Noe”]
MAX: Majd is responsible for two inventions: Green Cake and SunBox.
Green Cake is an alternative to cement, which is hard to come by in the Gaza Strip. Majd figured out how turn ashes and rubble into building blocks.
And then there’s SunBox, which is her answer to the energy crisis we’ve been talking about. It’s a small, easy-to-use, and affordable solar energy kit that takes advantage of the fact that Gaza gets more than 320 days of sunlight every year. SunBox can supply a family’s electricity for an entire day without relying on the grid.
Again, Majd is 24. And she not only invented Green Cake and SunBox, she is the CEO of both companies. But she has always felt a responsibility toward her people.
MAJD: Since I was a kid I used to work for the community.
MAX: When Majd was 14, she started going door to door in the refugee camps, as part of a movement for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
MAJD: We failed. I tell you. At the end of two years we failed because when we visited every house in the camps in Gaza to convince them not to fight and to build their future they didn't convince. Why because they didn't feel real change. And that's what drove me to think to the business orientation just like I wanted to do something that will let people follow what they think.
Well I didn't want to be an engineer. I wanted to go to science college to study physics but when I entered that college was like “This is not my place. I guess I need something more practical.” So I entered engineering and I loved it.
In the fourth year of college I started to develop an idea of making a building blocks. I didn't know how what exactly to use but I thought that the main problem in Gaza that time 2014 war was the building material.
[SOUND: 2014 assault on Gaza]
MAJD: We had a huge shortage in building materials and we didn't have access to building blocks. So people wanted to rebuild their houses but they couldn't find the materials. I started making building blocks out of paper.
It was successful, it was good but it was super expensive. So people couldn't afford it. And I moved to making building blocks out of mud.
MAX: From paper she had moved to mud. And from mud she eventually moved to ashes. Ashes are everywhere in Gaza City. Majd explained why.
MAJD: People who's making mud pots. I don't know if you know them mud pots but we use them in Gaza to eat. it's a good industry in Gaza and many people are using it so those people who produce mud pots they throw all the ashes in the neighborhood and the people are always complaining like we we smell bad things and we wanted the municipality but the municipality said yaani “We had nothing to do yaani. Khalas yaani this is not our problem. This is your problem. You should solve it.”
MAX: She found herself solving two problems at the same time: access to building materials, and the environmental problems caused by these ashes and other unhealthy refuse. Eventually from ashes she moved on to using the rubble of houses that had been demolished and needed to be rebuilt.
MAJD: So if someone wants to build his house we just like come to us. We take the rubbles of their houses and we make new blocks out of it.
MAX: She called her invention Green Cake.
MAJD: Green because it's the first environmentally friendly building blocks in Gaza. We use something that goes to garbage.
MAX: And they call it cake because under a microscope:
MAJD: It looks exactly like the cake with bubbles.
MAX: Green Cake is a replacement for cement and yes, a literal building block – Majd took the rubble from demolished houses and repurposed it to rebuild those same houses.
But even after two years of research and experimentation to make a viable prototype that could be sold on the market, many in Gaza were not convinced.
MAJD: Every community has the resistance to change. In the beginning there’s like. “This is what are you saying is so silly. Like how can I build my house from trash. Are you crazy.” I remember some people told me yaani yaani “You will die under a wall one day. A wall of your made of your blocks.” Because they didn't believe that it can build a wall.
It's the same for SunBox. It was like, “Are you serious? Are you going to give me 24 hours of electricity with only three hundred fifty dollars. I can't believe you. Your system is not functioning.”
MAX: SunBox. That’s her other invention, which uses solar energy to power Gaza.
[MUSIC: “Clay Pawn Shop”]
MAJD: So SunBox mainly consists of two solar panels, my device, and a battery. It gives enough electricity to power the main appliances at home such as phones laptops lights Internet fan TV and the small refrigerator. And like they can do laundry. But with the small machines.
MAX: The device is easily installed, easily maintained, and maybe most importantly, it’s affordable.
Solar technology isn’t new in Palestine. But the solar market in Gaza has been completely out of reach for most people who desperately need electricity.
MAJD: There is some solar companies in Gaza but they offer big systems. Yaani the cheapest system is 1200 dollars and people can't afford it
MAX: For families that can’t afford solar — or a fuel-powered generator, or poor-quality batteries that need to be constantly replaced — the stakes are high.
MAJD: We have candles. Many many families yaani their houses was burnt because of because of candles. One of the people was our neighbor and his four kids were died because of the candles.
MAX: In the summer of 2017, Majd was invited to join a business incubator. She decided to use the opportunity to address the energy crisis.
MAJD: I didn't want just like to dive into the market with a huge number of units without being able to sell it. So we brought one prototype and we installed it in one of the camps in the south and the next day I came. I found the whole neighborhood was watching a football match using our device and was like “Wow I guess here we are. Let's go.”
[SOUND: Football match]
MAJD: I don't know how to tell it like it was yaani — my phone rings every 5 seconds. It's for me it's exhausting. I receive around like 100 calls a day 50 emails hundreds of WhatsApp messages. Which is like. It means that people are looking for what are you offering.
MAX: Majd had an ingenious design and people in Gaza wanted her product. But it wasn’t so easy.
[MUSIC: “An Oddly Formal Dance”]
MAJD: I guess our biggest challenge is to be in Gaza. Like making business in Gaza is something it's very very complicated and it's very exhausting. It needs too much support, it needs too much patience, you have to be very patient.
I believe in business. And what drove me to this orientation is because I worked with NGOs before and I saw that it's not sustainable. It's not changing anything. Khalas. So there is no benefit out of it.
We wanted to create private economy. We want to make the wheel of the economy in Gaza to move. It's not moving. There's no there is no you know there is no companies are growing up.
MAX: Her experience with Green Cake had taught her that having a good product was not enough; she needed a business plan. Majd spent six months on a market survey.
MAJD: We made market survey for six months and we knew that people can pay like 80 percent of people can pay up to 400 dollars. After six months, what happened is the economic situation collapsed. Why? Because more than 75 percent of people are employees and now they are not getting salaries from the government, from both governments because of the political situation. Like they are fighting and they wanted to put more pressure on the government in Gaza so they said okay there is no salaries for the PA employees.
MAX: The situation is convoluted, so let me break it down:
Basically, there are two parallel sets of civil servants in Gaza: one under the Palestinian Authority (controlled by Fatah), and one under Hamas.
The PA continues to pay the salaries of its own employees, even though many of them haven’t actually worked since Hamas took over and installed its own people in 2007. But over the last few years, the PA has regularly and without warning reduced those salaries by 30-50% or failed to pay them at all. Lower wages means lower tax revenue for Hamas, which is supposed to put pressure on Hamas to give up control.
Meanwhile, Hamas continually struggles to pay its own employees, as tax revenue and international aid are constantly fluctuating.
Then there’s the UN.
MAJD: And the UN you know because of the budget cuts in the US government that made so the UN just decreased the salaries and many employees lost their jobs.
MAX: In January 2018, the Trump Administration cut its contribution to the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees by 83%. And then in September, they cut it down to zero. At the same time, they cut 200 million dollars from the USAID budget in the West Bank and Gaza.
MAJD: So the ability to pay for our product just like you know dropped to the half. So people who said we can pay four hundred dollars now they can't pay more than two hundred fifty dollars. So how can we operate.
MAX: She had fought to get the price down to $350, believing that would be within reach for the majority of families in Gaza. Then suddenly, that was no longer true. Innovative technology was not enough: they needed a new business model.
MAJD: We reached out to organizations big organizations and we told them listen: we want you you want your support.
MAX: The idea was for these NGOs to subsidize the cost of a SunBox — not to pay for them entirely, but to offset the cost by $100 per unit.
MAJD: So instead of buying the unit for 350 dollars they can buy the unit for 250 dollars. At the end of the day you are helping people and the same time you're supporting the economy in Gaza. They said, “Okay, we can help you.”
MAX: But before these organizations would subsidize any SunBoxes, they wanted to see 100 units operational on the ground. This is typical of the nonprofit industrial complex. Before they give you money, they need to see you do the thing you need their money to do. Anyway, to solve this problem, she started a crowdfunding campaign.
CROWDFUNDING VIDEO: Since 2006, Gaza has been suffering from a severe energy crisis.
MAJD: In three weeks we raised almost thirty two thousand dollars from 50 different countries across the globe.
CROWDFUNDING VIDEO: We are a group of entrepreneurs from Gaza. We refuse to lose hope.
MAJD: From people we never met before. Just believed in the concept.
CROWDFUNDING VIDEO: We need you to donate and share our campaign. May the sun bless you, and may the sun bless Gaza as well. Thank you.
MAJD: Our goal was 50 now we're still raising like a hundred thousand dollars. After subsidizing for 1000 families we will go back to those organizations like listen. Now we have a thousand units on the ground we need your support to reach 5000 families.
MAX: But money can’t buy everything. When I spoke to Majd in August, she was waiting on 185 batteries held up at the border.
MAJD: We have several manufacturers in China. So we ship it from China to Israel, from Israel to Gaza. So it's now in Israel since 4 weeks and we can’t get it into Gaza.
MAX: Batteries, like construction materials, are considered “dual-use items” — meaning they could be used for military purposes rather than civilian ones.
But as Majd explained, just as often this has nothing to do with the nature of the items — and everything to do with politics.
MAJD: So the border situation is more like totally depending on the, what is going on in the country between Israel and Palestine. So if something happens in Area C let's say they would close the border. They open it and they close it whenever they want which is which is the main thing for business.
MAX: And if infrastructure and geopolitics weren’t enough…
[MUSIC: “Noe Noe”]
MAJD: So in Gaza there is they don't believe in women's abilities. When I started Green Cake in the beginning I remember my family was the biggest support for me but they were under pressure social pressure from the surrounding community. Like uncles talking them like “What your daughter is doing. She's wasting her life. She should get married.” One of them told me, “When I was at your age I had four babies.” Yaani I’m a bad investment for the family.
Also like working in an office with men is not allowed. So I had to have women with me or my brother as like. So it's it's very complicated. One time I remember that I had a fight with my family — as I said they are the biggest support but they are under social pressure from the community. So my dad told me yaani “You will bring a woman or you are not working.” I was like “Okay I'm not working.” And I closed the office for two weeks. I was like “I'm not going to work. Just like I don't believe in what you're saying. Give me something reasonable I can believe in.” And after two weeks it was like he allowed me to open it.
Sometimes I go to the houses when we install solar units. So the device is self-installable but I wanted to make sure that they install it perfectly and no problem. Usually I meet the man, the owner of the house, not women at all. He was talking to me but he doesn’t want to look at me. And he asked the engineer who’s working in the company to check if what I did was wrong or right. So they don't believe in the ability of us doing something.
I still have some troubles with the team itself even because it's men but it's it's fine yaani. I'm used to it. Our goal is bigger than being a man or a woman. Our goal is to create the change in our community.
So yes being in Gaza and running a business in Gaza it's not something easy at all and I always say if someone will be successful running business in Gaza he can run business anywhere. Just like all around the world. It's so easy to do business here in the US. It’s like this. I don't understand why do people sometimes say Oh it's too hard here. You have to come back home and see what does the hardship means.
MAX: Majd tried to leave Gaza for many years, without much luck.
MAJD: Before before Green Cake I tried to get out just to build myself seven times. I remember taking my my things to the border getting my visa my flight tickets everything and I couldn’t pass. And they called me a hopeless case.
MAX: Finally, after winning first prize in an innovation challenge, Majd went outside Gaza for the first time in March 2017.
MAJD: I went through the United Nations UNRWA to Japan. You can imagine life from Japan. From Gaza to Japan. It's totally unfair.
MAX: In Japan, she was able to technically refine Green Cake, to test the blocks in ways that were impossible back home.
MAJD: It was pure technical amazing trip. And after this when I went back home and I said listen the block is great but I don't know how to change it to business so I have to go for a business trip. And this is how I came to the U.S. And since then I'm not staying in Gaza, it’s like traveling all the time.
MAX: And what have you seen and how has it changed your point of view.
MAJD: I saw life. Yes. Yaani what I saw is life. What is life. I recognize that we are back home. We don't know anything about what is life. We thought we are alive but we are not. And sometimes I feel very sad when people yaani are happy to have 8 hours of electricity like we should fight for 24 hours. We shouldn't be happy with 8 hours. We should be satisfied with the max not with the minimum. So yeah.
[MUSIC: “Emmit Sprak”]
MAX: We originally spoke to Majd last summer. But facts on the ground have changed since then. Here’s Tania Hary again, from Gisha.
TANIA: People in Gaza have now since November had about 12 hours per day which is like the best that they can ever hope for. Hasn't been 12 hours in several years.
MAX: It’s 12 hours now because the government of Qatar spent 60 million U.S. dollars to purchase fuel from Israel to power the Gaza Strip. But as of this recording it’s almost April, and that fuel won’t last forever.
TANIA: So they're going to suddenly go back down again and I think it's going to again lead to internal protests more it's like once you get used to like a better standard of living and then you're knocked back down again. I think people are going to be angry rightfully angry and Qatar is saying like we can't just keep giving money for fuel. Something needs to change fundamentally.
MAX: As Tania explained it, one of the reasons that Qatar stepped in to give money for fuel in the first place was not only to provide immediate relief to the population, but also because if Gaza descends into a full-blown humanitarian crisis, that anger she’s talking about could boil over. The agenda of countries like Qatar and various international aid organizations is to preserve at least temporary stability.
But think about that: temporary stability. Is that really stability?
TANIA: It's hard because you know for outside audiences they're like OK crisis crisis crisis and people get accused of crying wolf because like well you know people aren’t dying it's not Yemen it's not Syria. But really the only reason why that is is because there is this constant investment. It's like a total mirage that things are kind of OK but it's everything is being propped up on on humanitarian aid essentially. So as soon as you're seeing like now we're seeing the dips in the aid supply mainly from the US then the system is starting to fracture and crack.
[MUSIC: “Olivia Wraith”]
MAX: What's the dream. If everybody has SunBox in their home, what is possible in Gaza.
MAJD: I can see the dream started from now when we installed the pilot. Yaani the amount of happiness I saw in people's eyes. It's I can't describe it here seriously. I remember one time installed a unit for a family and I went back to the office. I was like I felt I wanted to eat everything around me because I was so happy and I was so hungry. And is like yaani the amount of happiness I had it was just too much yaani. I felt like it's really changing life.
MAX: In September, all those batteries were finally allowed over the border, and SunBox has now installed about 800 solar systems on rooftops across the Gaza Strip.
The company is growing really fast: even though the stalled economy in Gaza has continued to cut into people’s ability to pay for her device, Majd has raised 60,000 U.S. dollars to offset her costs, and this month SunBox is set to install another 400 units. And as she said, this can really change people’s lives.
SunBox is also now getting into the business of powering large institutions like hospitals, universities, and water treatment facilities — one building at a time.
But at the end of the day, the energy crisis is really an economic crisis, and a political crisis. As long as people in Gaza can't afford to pay their bills, the system can never invest in long-term maintenance and development, and can never become self-sufficient.
TANIA: So I think that it's it's vital that movement restrictions are lifted on Gaza not just for the spare parts and not just for the technicians that need to come in and out. That that's too isolated. We need to look at the broader picture of of the economy allowing people to travel allowing goods to come in and out uh in order to restore economic activity. People want to be independent. They don't want to depend on charity and handouts. They want to be able to develop their own grid. And in the current situation they're not able to do so.
MAX: Majd Mashharawi has learned from experience to stay away from the fractious and often dangerous politics of Israel-Palestine. But the economic and even psychological impact of her work is also inherently political.
MAJD: Why do people yaani not thinking of changing their life or doing better things. Because they don't have the minimum things. Like people don’t have electricity don’t have food. They don't have income. So it's normal they will never thinking of think of a change. They only think how to have the food.
If you come to a Gazan on the street and tell him “Listen let's change our life. Let's make a youth movement then create a new government.” They will think I'm silly. “Are you serious. You have money and your family has money. That's why you think of this. You have nothing else to worry about.” One time, my friend told me, “You have nothing else to worry about so you want to make a revolution.” So yes it's true.
I want people to reach to this stage the stage where they can think of making a change themselves not waiting for others and being dependent.
I hate when people call us victims. I really hate it. I don't like when people yaani treat me as like. “Oh you need mercy.” Not true. Like we can create many things but we know how to fish but we don't have a sea. We really know how to fish. We have the talents we have the potential but yaani we can't find the sea.
[MUSIC: “The Candle is Innocent”]
MAX: Unsettled is produced by Emily Bell, Asaf Calderon, Ilana Levinson, and me, Max Freedman. This episode was produced and edited by Ilana Levinson and me.
Our theme music is by Nat Rosenzweig. Additional music for this episode from Blue Dot Sessions. The song you’re hearing right now is “The Candle is Innocent” by Monem Awad, aka Fawda. You can find a link to the music video, as well as Majd Mashharawi’s recent TED Talk and other resources about SunBox and Gisha, on our website, unsettledpod.com.
If you like Unsettled, please tell a friend - and let us know! Leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or send your thoughts and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find us on social media — we’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
To catch the rest of our Gaza series, make sure you subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, so you never miss an episode of Unsettled.
MAX: Hey, remember way back in December 2017 when we featured the playwright and musician Dan Fishback on not one, but two episodes of Unsettled?
DAN FISHBACK: I believe in the liberation of the people of Palestine, and I believe in the liberation of the Jewish people. And those things are not just not mutually exclusive, they require each other.
MAX: Guess what — Dan has his own podcast! It’s called Sick Day with Dan Fishback, and you can find it wherever you’re listening to Unsettled right now. Dan talks to his favorite activists and theater people and activist theater people about art and politics, chronic illness, sexuality, and Star Trek. Check it out. Sick Day with Dan Fishback.