JEBALIYA, Gaza Strip, (AP) – Muin Abdul Ghani sleeps in his car, parked among dozens of other vehicles at a gas station, unwilling to give up his place in line in his desperate scramble for gasoline.
It’s one way Gaza’s embattled 1.4 million residents are adjusting to their newest crisis: a protest by gas station owners who have refused to sell the small amounts they have in stock or accept future shipments after months of restricted Israeli fuel supplies.
Gaza residents also wrestle with high black market prices and overstuffed taxis. They have turned to bicycles, liquid gas for their cars and homemade fuel recipes to try to deal with the shortage.
Israel has restricted fuel supplies since September to pressure Palestinian militants into halting rocket fire at neighboring Israeli communities, but with no apparent results.
“We are like street dogs looking for bones,” said Abdul Ghani, a 44-year-old taxi driver, smoking by his car at a gas station in the northern Gazan town of Jebaliya. Around 200 cars, taxis, delivery trucks and farm machinery vehicles were parked there, waiting for the gas station to distribute rationed supplies. Some drivers abandoned their cars, while others sold their places in line.
Abdul Ghani expected to wait at least another day for a day’s worth of fuel. Gaza’s Hamas government rations out fuel, only allowing residents to take four gallons at a time.
Israel supplies around 19,000 gallons of gasoline a week, 8 percent of Gaza’s needs, and 200,000 gallons of diesel fuel — 30 percent of Gaza’s needs, Palestinians charge.
Israeli army Col. Nir Press, commander of the military liaison unit, countered that Israel is supplying Gaza with more than enough fuel for its basic needs, but the Islamic Hamas movement is using some of it for its own purposes, including fuel for vehicles that ferry rockets to be fired at Israel.
“I really don’t think that this is a crisis,” Press said. “They want to create an appearance of a crisis.”
The Hamas government takes around half of Gaza’s reduced supplies for hospitals, municipal services, water wells and sewage pumps, said Ziad Zaza, a senior Hamas government official.
Protesting the shortages, gas station owners rebelled on Monday, refusing to sell what they have in stock or accept future shipments.
Gaza residents are seeking their own solutions. Drivers pay black market prices for siphoned-off fuel. One taxi driver purchased four gallons for $33 from a sneaky gas station employee. Four gallons sells at the pump for $27.
“It was a good deal. We just want to keep our business running,” said the driver, who asked not to be named because the Hamas government forbids black market fuel trading. Other black market traders offer four-gallon tanks for $55.
Reflecting the shortages, shared taxis that once fit seven people are now piling in 10, sometimes 15 people.
On a Gaza City road where shared cabs pick up university students, men and women stood in unhappy clumps waiting for rides.
Heba Mina, a 22-year-old student, was waiting for a ride to her central Gaza Strip home. It used to take seconds to get a cab. Now the wait is longer.
Mina, who wears a full face veil and long black robe, now squeezes into cabs filled with men, once forbidden by conservative Gaza Muslim etiquette.
“It’s embarrassing, but I’m desperate,” Mina said. This week, she missed two morning classes because she couldn’t find transport on time.
The scarcity is good business for some.
Wael Awad, a 28-year-old car mechanic makes a $137 profit converting a cars to accept liquid gas rather than gasoline. Liquid gas is more plentiful in Gaza. Since fuel restrictions began, he’s converted at least one car a day. Before the crisis, he said he converted two a week.
Other Gaza residents are mixing kerosene with used cooking oil to power their cars, though it’s not clear whether they run.
Fawzi Hisi, 25, a Hamas policeman, dusted off his childhood bike two months ago. “I couldn’t find a taxi to get to work,” Hisi said. He’s lucky. His colleagues can’t afford new bicycles, but can’t find secondhand bikes, which are now in short supply.
Hisi said the fuel shortage wouldn’t shake his loyalty to the Hamas government. “I’ll walk if I have to. We won’t die from a fuel shortage,” he said.