‘Collective punishment’: Israel begins cutting power to West Bank over debts

Israel’s electricity company announced Sunday that they are beginning to cut power to areas of the West Bank over Palestinian debts.

The Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) cited 1.7 billion shekels (or $484 million) in debts from Jerusalem’s District Electricity Co., Palestinians’ main power distributor, as the reason for reducing power.

Palestinian Authority officials said the move constituted a form of collective punishment and accused Israel of blackmailing Palestinians.

“The [Israeli] occupation government is seeking, through these sanctions and the exploitation of electricity debts, to put pressure on the Palestinian government to accept an agreement that does not respect the rights of the Palestinians,” said Thafer Melhem, the Chairman of the Palestinian Energy and Power Resources Authority.

Ali Hamodeh, an official with Jerusalem’s District Electricity Co., stated that in the next few weeks power is expected to be cut for two hours every day in several Palestinian cities. He said Israeli authorities are exaggerating the debt.

The IEC said in a statement that the company had for a long time warned both the debtor and the relevant officials in government ministries of the immediate need to pay the debts, but to date no solution has been found.

The Palestinian power distributor received its first warning in August, pushing them to take out a loan of 100 million shekels to repay its debt. But the IEC declared the portions paid as inadequate. The IEC informed Jerusalem’s District Electricity Co. last week that they will begin cutting power to districts in Ramallah, Jericho and Bethlehem.

The distributor said the debt is a result of some Palestinians not paying their electricity bills and illegal internet connections in homes and refugee camps. Melhem said authorities are working with residents to repay their debts and implement measures against those who set up illegal connections.

The Palestinian health ministry warned that cuts to power pose a significant health risk to patients. Power outages could damage refrigerated medications and vaccines that require colder or freezing temperatures. And a lack of refrigeration could also deteriorate food items.

Fearing a rise in tensions and violence, the IEC will only cut power gradually and in certain areas, before eventually escalating those efforts if the debts remain unpaid.

The PA plans to break free from Israel’s grip on their power supply and establish a first-of-its-kind power plant to be finished by 2023m which aims to meet 40 per cent of the West Bank’s electricity needs.

Source: Palestine Monitor