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Thursday, 21 November 2019

After Gaza, Israel moves to cut electricity in the West Bank

Citing unpaid debt, Israel is cutting electricity across the West Bank, putting the health and food sectors in particular into grave peril, writes Haitham Ahmed

Haitham Ahmed , Wednesday 25 Sep 2019
After Gaza, Israel moves to cut electricity in the West Bank
New electrical substation in Jenin, West Bank (photo: Reuters)
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The decision by the Israeli Electricity Corporation (IEC) to ration electricity and cut power in some areas supplied by the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (Palestinian) in the governorates of Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jerusalem is detrimental to Palestinians. This could be the start of permanent power outages, similar to those in the Gaza Strip.

The move is yet another daily aggravation and harassment which is part of an intentional and systematic plan to break the will of the Palestinian people, exhaust them, and force them to surrender to occupation or escape overseas. They blame the Palestinian power company for not taking any steps to prevent this decision since it received a first warning from the IEC several months ago.

Several Palestinian butchers and supermarket owners in Ramallah said they are hurt by the step, even though they pay their bills on time, and pointed to lax measures by the power company against violators, especially in Area C under the Oslo Accords. They added that the occupation never misses a chance to collectively punish Palestinians.

According to Oslo II signed by the Palestinian Authority and Israel in 1995, the West Bank was divided into Areas A, B and C. Area C constitutes 61 per cent of West Bank territories and is under Israeli security control and administration, which means Israel must approve any Palestinian projects or activities.

The IEC provides Palestinians with 90 per cent of their power consumption and the remainder is locally produced or comes from Jordan. The IEC provides electricity in the Palestinian territories through the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDEC) which delivers power to the central West Bank and Palestinian townships in the north and south West Bank.

The IEC said it will ration power to some areas in the West Bank to settle JDEC’s debts, which ballooned in recent years to 1.7 billion shekels (around $500 million). “We warned the JDEC and other authorities about the need to immediately repay the debt,” stated the IEC. “But there was no solution and our company was forced to cut power supplies.”

The JDEC told its subscribers about the IEC’s intention to ration power to two hours daily in certain areas according to a timetable until mid-October. The Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority (PENRA) condemned the power outage, which was approved by the Israeli government. “This collective punishment of shutting down power in Palestinian communities is unacceptable and will impact vital sectors such as health, education, industry and others,” a PENRA statement read.

“Through these punitive actions and taking advantage of the electricity debt, the occupation government wants pressure the Palestinian government to accept conditions in the agreement that do not deliver Palestinian rights. These conditions include high prices which the Palestinian government rejects outright because it is a burden on distribution companies and citizens. At the same time, it does not grant rights to operate in all areas which does not meet the electricity needs of citizens across the country.”

The statement added: “There are several reasons why debts accumulated, including the high cost of electricity from the IEC, non-payment of electricity bills by some communities and individuals, violations of power grids by criminals, and technical and non-technical losses of distribution grids.”

PENRA Chairman Zafer Melhem and JDEC Chairman and Director Hesham Al-Amri discussed the impact and danger of power outages resulting from debt accumulation due to consumer non-payment and electricity theft in some Palestinian cities, towns, villages and refugee camps.

Melhem said the government “immediately began contacting international parties and global figures about the dangers of shutting down power and collective punishment, especially since it will negatively impact vital facilities in Palestine, especially in the health, education and economic sectors. This indicates there is a systematic policy by the Israeli government to pressure the Palestinians to accept conditions dictated by Israelis.”

He continued: “The IEC is adamant in shutting down electricity even though the Ministry of Finance over the past two months paid 374 million shekels of the debt (200 million shekels on behalf of local distribution companies in the West Bank; 70 million shekels for money owed in monthly bills; 80 million shekels for the Gaza Strip; and 24 million shekels on behalf of the JDEC.

The JDEC also paid 100 million shekels on a loan guaranteed by the Palestinian government. The total amount of the outstanding JDEC debt is nearly 700 million shekels plus 636 million shekels that were frozen based on the 2016 agreement.”

Melhem said PENRA and other agencies “will be implementing the no-fault clause and prosecuting those who steal electricity, and pass a stiff law against those who do not pay their bills. This requires support from the judicial system to help the company collect its dues, especially from those who have large debts.”

Al-Amri agreed that electricity thieves and non-payers should be prosecuted immediately, especially in Area C, to protect law-abiding consumers who will be punished through no fault of their own. Also, to stem JDEC losses estimated at 160 million shekels annually.

Palestinian Minister of Health Mai Kilah issued a statement condemning shutting down power in Palestinian governorates since it threatens the lives of patients in hospitals and clinics, especially emergency cases, spoils tons of medicine, and will have a huge impact on all aspects of life, especially food. Kilah continued that outages are collective punishment since Israel does not honour any charter, law or international practice with these measures.

She added that the JDEC did all it could to continue its commitment to the Palestinian people despite Israel’s obstinance.

Palestinians have been trying to buy power generators, but the Israeli occupation bans them, which keeps power generation in the hands of the IEC, which controls all electricity supplies in the West Bank and Jerusalem. This makes the future of the West Bank bleak and it could descend into a similar darkness that engulfed the Gaza Strip.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

 

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