Talk of 'Third World' Israel After Storm Causes Mass Power Outages

Some Israelis haven't had power since Sunday morning, 'and their faith in their government and its institutions is running out,' mayors write.

Moti Milrod

Some 24,000 Israelis have been without electricity since Sunday morning due to the rainstorm as business owners in Tel Aviv suburb Ra’anana report losses in the tens of thousands of shekels.

They’re wondering who will compensate them and joining Mayor Zeev Bielski in insisting that the Israel Electric Corporation isn’t working fast enough to fix the problem. A labor dispute at the company was one of the sticking points, he said.

“The prime minister has to act differently and start taking this whole thing seriously. This behavior on behalf of the electricity monopoly won’t go by quietly,” Bielski told Haaretz hours after he and Kfar Sava Mayor Yehuda Ben-Hamo sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“What would happen during wartime? Legislation should be advanced regarding permission for strikes. If the army or police suddenly stopped working – that’s how it should be with the electric company.”

He pledged to apply more pressure to improve the work of the IEC.

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“A red line has been crossed here. The blame is theirs, first and foremost. An investigative committee has to be convened over this. When the blackout started we didn’t know there were issues with the workers. We wasted 12 precious hours until we knew there was a labor dispute. The electric company is stopped up, and the workers’ conduct is unacceptable,” Bielski said.

“I estimate that in Ra’anana alone there are damages in the millions of shekels and severe financial losses. Stores are closed, credit cards aren’t working and lots of food is going to waste. Someone needs to compensate the residents.”

The mayors took the issue further in their letter.

“During these long hours we wonder where the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry is, and why the minister hasn’t made his voice heard. Why do Israeli citizens time and time again pay a heavy price for this incompetence, which has been pointed out by numerous comptroller reports and investigative committees? It is unacceptable that extreme weather can turn Israel into a third world country,” they wrote.

“Some citizens have not had power for over 20 hours and have suffered great damage, and their faith in their government and its institutions is running out .... We call on you to intervene immediately and appoint an investigative committee to examine the actions of the Israel Electric Corporation, both in general and during this incident in particular.”

Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava has treated 27 people injured due to the storm and power outages over the last two days. Hospital officials said seriously injured patients arrived at the hospital after a crane collapsed in Taibeh, and many people had been hurt by falling trees or other objects.

“This is an exceptional power outage in terms of the damage it has caused,” said one hospital official.

The IEC said that around 33,000 Israeli households were without power, mostly in Ra’anana and Netanya, both north of Tel Aviv. In that area, roughly 300 high-voltage lines had been damaged, with thousands of lines down.

The company said repair teams had been sent from Jerusalem and Haifa to help.

Still, Judy Melawer, a small business owner in Ra’anana, was wondering if the government would compensate her for her losses.

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“We haven’t worked for two days, and I need to continue paying salaries to 15 employees. I’ve lost between $40,000 and $50,000 because of the power outage. Who’ll reimburse me? For a small business like this, that damage is huge,” she said.

“Two days without work affects the rest of the week, because now there will be less work as customers go to competitors. Two weeks ago we had an eight-hour power outage that caused losses – how is it possible that this still happens in Israel?”

Joining Melawer in grief was Marcello Hautman, a small business owner who went to make repairs in his office on Monday.

“On a normal day there’s no time for this, so at least today I can get some repairs done,” he said. “It’s not enough that we’ve got an intifada, now there’s no power either? Unbelievable.”

Many stores in central Ra’anana remain closed. Some of them bear signs explaining they will not open until the blackout is over.

Shlomo Ben Dror, the owner of a small electronics store that has been in business for 35 years, said “we fix electronics, but we have nothing to do now. These two days have cost us thousands of shekels. It can really endanger the business and put us in debt. It’s hard to deal with these losses.”

The elderly in the area have been especially stung by the power outage. In Herzliya, 10 elderly people have been taken out of their homes and relocated by the welfare services.

“Many elderly people are calling us frantically because their emergency call buttons don’t work,” said a woman who gave her name as Gilat, an elderly-care professional in Herzliya. “These are very elderly people who rely on their call buttons and get worried when they don’t work.”

As a Ra’ananan whose first name is Ronit noted, her husband sleeps with a respirator mask due to shortness of breath.

“He’s an elderly man, and due to the power outage he had to sleep without a mask. That’s scary for a man his age. The elevator in our building doesn’t work and it’s hard for us to use the stairs,” she said.

“Yesterday [Monday] was a nightmare, and we waited hoping there would be electricity in the morning, but it’s still out. A 15-minute drive to work took me an hour and a half because there are no traffic lights.”

Some nursing homes in Ra’anana and Herzliya are still without power and are relying on generators until the outages are fixed.

“It’s a terrible problem. We have many elderly residents that need electricity and life support,” said one nursing home administrator in Kfar Sava. “I don’t want to imagine what would happen if we didn’t have a generator.”