Bedouin Towns in Israel's Negev Desert Say Power Company Failing Them

Israel Electric Corporation blames disruptions on a combination of unusually cold weather and illegal hookups that overload the grid

Nati Yefet
Nati Yefet
Tel Sheva, near Be’er Sheva, Israel, October 2021.
Tel Sheva, near Be’er Sheva, Israel, October 2021.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Nati Yefet
Nati Yefet

Many Bedouin communities in the Negev are experiencing widespread blackouts and disruptions over the past few days, prompting mayors and other officials to complain that the Israel Electric Corp. isn’t doing enough to make repairs quickly and ensure residents have power during the current cold snap.

For its part, IEC blames the disruptions on a combination of the unusually cold weather and illegal hookups that overload the electrical grid.

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The blackouts that began almost a week ago have affected some 6,000 residents of the Bedouin city of Rahat, said city officials. A few-hundred homes in Tel Sheva have also lost power, and power disruptions are affecting the electricity supply for about 10,000 people in Arara Banegev. Thousands of residents of Lakiya were affected for over 24 hours this week, and in Kseifa the electricity went off for the entire town on Wednesday night.

Omar Abu Rakeik, the mayor of Tel Sheva, near Be’er Sheva, said residents have only partial service. “Out of every 10 faults, they fix one or two and leave. In one of the neighborhoods, the solution was to turn off the switch. They said ‘we’ll come tomorrow’ and left the people without power at night. Now there are three large neighborhoods, about 300 houses, most of which are cut off, some since Saturday,” he said.

Ibrahim Abu Khadayad, the head of the electricity department of the Rahat municipality, said power outages that began over the weekend had not yet been dealt with.

“Twelve neighborhoods were cut off and are still suffering. The electric company doesn’t have enough manpower, so people are being forced to wait a long time for the technicians to arrive. Even when they come, they make a temporary fix. But with all the rain and cold the network is overloaded, and the infrastructure here is very old, so half an hour after the repair the fuses burn out once again,” said Abu Khadayad.

Naif Abu Arar, the mayor of Arara Banegev, said four neighborhoods in his town had no electricity, affecting about half of the town’s 21,000 residents.

“People have been living that way for four days. The police say there are people who are connected illegally. I told them that even if it’s true, almost all those (without electricity) are hooked up legally, so why is everyone being punished? It seems they are doing it intentionally,” Abu Arar said.

Ahmed al-Assad, the mayor of Lakiya, said three neighborhoods in his town had lacked power for about 24 hours this past week. “Half the town has been living almost two days in the cold, without electricity or anything,” he said. “There are people who use ventilators, there are a lot of sick people. The cold reached zero (Celsius, 32 degrees Fahrenheit), but the electric company didn’t fix it.”

In a recording of a conversation posted on social media in the last few days an IEC call center worker is heard telling a Tel Sheva resident, “We have no permission to enter (the town). The police haven’t given us permission to come in and deal with the faults.”

The police denied any such restriction exists. “We are not under a military government,” said an official.

“False information has been spread over the past few hours that the Israel Police is preventing the work of IEC crews in Bedouin communities in the Negev,” a police spokesman said. “This is fake news with no basis in truth.”

In response, IEC admitted that over the past 24 hours power disruptions had occurred in some Arab communities due to the cold weather and increased electricity consumption, which has increased the load the electricity grid has to contend with. But it also blamed illegal hookups.

“Crews are being called on to fix the damage reported about incidents almost all of which are due to (illegal) hookups, which create exceptional loads on the grid and cause short circuits and damage to infrastructure,” a spokesman said. “In many cases, the crews are being called on to fix it and after a few hours they are called in once again to handle these same incidents.”

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