Israel Disrupts Power to Hebron, in Second Day of Planned West Bank Outages Over Palestinian Debt

After power outages in Bethlehem and Jericho, power reduced in center Hebron; Palestinian power company appeals Supreme Court.

A grocery store in Bethlehem on April 4, 2016, during an Israeli-planned power outage.
Mahmoud Elian

The Israel Electric Corporation reduced the supply of electricity to the center of the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday. The outage was part of a plan to disrupt the power supply in various districts of the West Bank over the next two weeks, over large, unpaid electricity bills owed by the Palestinian Authority.

Residents of the city center told Haaretz that the electricity supply was cut off for one hour on Tuesday morning, between 9 A.M. and 10 A.M. They quoted the Palestinian electric company as saying that a further electricity blackout was scheduled for the afternoon.

Hebron does not receive its electricity from the Jerusalem District Electricity Company, also known as the East Jerusalem Electric Company, which suffered similar power cuts in Jericho last Thursday and in Bethlehem on Monday, each lasting four hours. The company supplies electric power to about one-third of the West Bank.

Electricity disruptions are expected in the Bethlehem area on Wednesday, including villages such as Al Khader and the Dheisheh refugee camp, and in the area of Ramallah and al-Bireh on Thursday.

Decisions to cut or reduce electricity supplies are made on a daily basis and communicated to the relevant authorities in the Palestinian Authority, the IEC said.

“I don’t know of any company that would agree to give up and do nothing about a 1.74 billion shekels ($460 million) debt from another company,” IEC chairman Yiftah Ron-Tal said on Tuesday.

“The time has come to put an end to the situation in which the debts balloon,” Ron-Tal told the Israel National Energy Conference. “We have no choice left. We are limiting electricity in a proportional fashion. I call on those who have the authority to help us in order to collect
our debts.”

The Jerusalem District Electricity Company filed an urgent petition with the Supreme Court on Tuesday asking for an injunction on the power disruptions.

Hisham al-Omari, CEO of the Jerusalem District Electricity Company, told Haaretz on Monday the decision to shift interruptions and electricity cuts from place to place doesn't constitute an easing of the burden, but rather cruelty and collective punishment toward Palestinian residents. He said the debt in the dispute between the IEC and the PA stems from differences over electricity rates and calculations of interest payments.

IEC representatives confirmed that there is a dispute over these issues, but added that they do not fully explain the mounting debt. “The disagreements can perhaps reduce the debt by a few percentage points, but not [account for] 1.7 billion shekels, so we have been forced to act,” said one official.

About two years ago, The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, warned against an Israel Electric Corporation’s plan to start instituting power cuts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem due to debts. In a letter sent to National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, senior IEC executives, the Foreign Ministry and the defense minister, Mordechai said the question of supplying electricity to the Palestinians is not just a commercial issue for the IEC, but a strategic and diplomatic one for Israel. Mordechai claimed that limiting power supplies to the Palestinians would be viewed as a sanction by Israel against the civilian population, and this must be prevented.

In the Gaza Strip, power shortage has become a routine in recent years, and residents say that it's rare that electricity is supplied for more than eight straight hours. A senior official with Gaza's power company, who wished to remain nameless, told Haaretz that while daily demand in the Strip is 450 megawatts on average, supply doesn't surpass 208 megawatts.