Daily Power Outages Hit East Jerusalem Amid Increased Demand

Hundreds of thousands affected by month-long crisis ■ National electric company says it has to lower power because of lack of infrastructure

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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The Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem, December 2019.
The Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem, December 2019.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Hundreds of thousands of East Jerusalem residents have been suffering from daily power outages over the last month. These usually occur at peak times in the evening and last anywhere between a few minutes and three hours. The Jerusalem District Electricity Company, which provides power to East Jerusalem and the West Bank, blames the Israel Electric Corporation for deliberately dropping the voltage. The IEC admits to lowering the power but says it has no choice since the Palestinian company’s infrastructure cannot meet the demand.

The JDECO is one of the largest and most important employers in East Jerusalem. The company provides electricity to Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as well as to communities to the north and south of the city. In the past, the company also generated electricity, but in recent decades it has been purchasing it from the IEC and distributing it to its consumers over its own power lines.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 58

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The two companies were involved in a big dispute over a large debt incurred by JDECO. Because of this debt, the IEC started dropping the voltage it transferred to the East Jerusalem company. This stopped when the weather turned cold as the two companies reached a new agreement and settled most of the debt. But the cold weather brought a new problem for JDECO: Due to high demand, the IEC is deliberately dropping the voltage and claiming that the Palestinian infrastructure cannot handle the demand and will collapse, causing damage to stations connecting the Israeli network with the Palestinian one.

The result is daily power outages in Palestinian neighborhoods across the city and in adjacent Palestinian communities. The neighborhoods suffering the most are in the center and south parts of the city – Silwan, Jabal Mukkaber and Sur Baher – as well as Bethlehem and villages in the West Bank. There have been several protests against JDECO in the last two weeks.

“Our electricity cuts out 3 to 4 times a day, each time for 5 minutes, but the clinic has some very sensitive systems and it takes us over an hour to return to normal each time,” says the director of a health maintenance organization clinic in East Jerusalem. “I need to install a generator but that’s a big investment. I have patients at home with an oxygen machine and they have a problem,” he notes.

“Every day there’s a power cut lasting from two to four hours,” says Naher Alissi, a resident of Jabal Mukkaber. “People have gone back to using kerosene and gas for heating. Many people are sick, with children and the elderly suffering, and no one cares.”

“On Wednesday, we had no power from 1 [P.M.] to 9 o’clock at night. Every day there’s no electricity for at least 4 hours,” says Daoud Siyam from Silwan. “I bought a propane heater, and I have to change a cylinder every three days – the situation is very difficult.”

Palestinian social media is full of complaints and jokes about these outages. “When the inventor of electricity Thomas Edison died in 1931, America turned off its electricity for a few minutes in his honor. Palestine still honors this man and perpetuates his memory to this day,” wrote someone. The post appeared on the 0202 website, which translates Arabic and Hebrew articles and social media posts from Jerusalem.

JDECO claims it can handle the demand. “If we get the power we request, there’ll be no problems,” said the chairman of the workers committee, Abd al-Salam, during an interview on Channel 11.

But Oren Helman, senior vice president in charge of regulation at the IEC, disagrees: “Our objective is to maintain the network’s strength. If we don’t do that, the result will be a collapse, resulting in pronged darkness rather than short outages,” he says.

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