The Jewish neighborhood of Nof Tzion in East Jerusalem was connected to the Israeli electricity grid this week, switching from the Palestinian energy provider that had supplied it previously.
After the change, most of the Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem now receive their electricity from the Israel Electric Corporation. The vast majority of the Arab residents in that part of the city are customers of the Jerusalem District Electricity Company, which in addition to East Jerusalem provides power to the cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jericho and environs.
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JDECO buys its electricity from the IEC, to which it owes hundreds of millions of dollars. Up until about a year ago, the IEC caused intentional power outages in the Palestinian network because of the huge debts it was owed by the Palestinian company.
After debt arrangements were made, a new problem arose last winter. The IEC stopped supplying power to tens of thousands of customers of the Palestinian company, on the grounds that its infrastructure was inadequate.
The IEC said that if it did not limit the flow of electricity, the power grid in large areas of East Jerusalem would fail. As a result, many East Jerusalem residents suffered frequent, prolonged power outages during the winter. For weeks during the coldest period of the year, large areas of East Jerusalem were without electricity for hours at a time, sometimes in excess of 12 hours.
Hundreds of thousands of people suffered from the outages, including a few hundred Jews living in Palestinian neighborhoods.
Nof Tzion, an enclave inside the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber, is the second-largest Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, with 90 families. It was established around 10 years ago.
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A few months, as a result of the frequent power cuts, residents began lobbying the Israeli authorities to switch them to the state-owned IEC. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon intervened to carry out the move.
The largest Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, Ma’aleh Zeitim on the Mount of Olives, has been connected to the Israeli power grid for years. Jews living in Silwan and other neighborhoods are still JDECO customers.
“Connecting Israeli electricity to Nof Tzion is first of all a humanitarian decision,” said Maor Tzemach, the chairman of the Lach, Yerushalayim nonprofit group and a Nof Tzion resident. “The residents of the neighborhood have suffered from power cuts in the winter of 14 continuous hours and this is a sovereign decision. Israel must provide high-quality electricity for all the residents in the eastern part of the city.” He would be happy if the rest of the residents of Jabal Mukkaber were connected to the Israeli electricity network too, said Tzemach.