Photos and text by Ahmad Al-Bazz
At the height of a harsh winter season, the Israel Electric Company cut power to two major Palestinian cities in the West Bank twice over this past week. Nearly 650,000 people were left without power for an entire hour in the middle of the day in Jenin, Nablus and 18 villages in the area.
The decision comes as a response the Palestinian Authority’s unpaid debt to the company, which totals some 1.9 billion shekels ($483 million). However, the Palestinian electricity company in the north of the West Bank claims that the numbers Israel provided are inflated, and that the decision to cut the power supply is strictly political, coming on the heels of the Israeli government’s decision to withhold the PA’s tax revenues. It is worth noting that according to the Oslo Accords and the Paris Protocols, the Palestinian Authority is required to buy its electricity from Israel.
The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights urgently contacted the CEO of Israel Electric Company and the head of the Civil Administration, demanding them to refrain from disconnecting West Bank cities from electricity. According to Adalah, cutting power leads to the violation of various constitutional rights, especially the right to life and health, and emphasized that these violations are only exacerbated by the fact that power was cut during a cold spell and an especially harsh winter.
In her letter to the Israel Electric Company and the Civil Administration, Attorney Sawsan Zaher from Adalah wrote that the Palestinian Authority’s debt to the electric company does not justify taking steps such as cutting off power from hundreds of thousands of people — especially in light of the fact that Israel Electric Company is the main source of power to the West Bank. Zahar further emphasized that, “since the West Bank is under full Israeli control and occupation, it has the obligation to maintain a decent life for the civilian population and take into account its well-being. Violating this obligation is a violation of Israel’s responsibility as an occupying power under both Israeli and international humanitarian law.
Adalah further noted fact that the CEO of the Israel Electric Company did not call to disconnect debtors in Israel due to difficult weather conditions, stating that “the reasonable conclusion is that disconnecting Palestinians from power was intended as collective punishment, which joins a list of steps taken against the Palestinian Authority in other realms.”
On Thursday, the Israel Electric Corporation agreed to stop cutting power to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for the Israeli government’s promise to use some of the Palestinian tax revenues it has been withholding to partially offset the PA’s debt.
This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.