On Monday, the Israel Electric Company disconnected the power supply to a large portion of Bethlehem in Judea, as part of a new, two-week power-cuts plan approved Monday morning by IEC management. Several main streets in Bethlehem, most notably Al Quds Street, are without power.
The new plan was discussed and approved by management as a proper response to the accumulating debts of the Palestinian Authority and the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO) which have reached 1.7 billion shekels ($450 million).
Last Thursday the IEC cut the power supply to the Arab city of Jericho near the Dead Sea. According to a JDECO official who spoke to Ha’aretz, the power cuts are not bringing any solution any time soon, and so they constitute collective punishment (which is forbidden under the Geneva Convention — although the same convention has nothing to say about having to pay your electric bills).
JDECO also claims that the announced debt is inflated, and there is a dispute between the Arab sub-metering company and IEC over the rates and how the interest is calculated for late payments. But the IEC contended that even if the Arab figures were to be adopted, the difference in the size of the debt would only be a few percentage points — not 1.7 billion shekels.
One of the reasons for the Arab failure to pay for their power is a letter sent two years ago by Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) chief, Major General Yoav Mordechai, to then National Security Advisor in the prime minister’s office, Yossi Cohen, warning against the IEC’s plan to curb power service to Arabs in Judea, Samaria, and eastern Jerusalem over their burgeoning debts. Mordechai argued that the power supply is not merely a business issue, but a strategic component of Israel’s policy. He warned that limiting power supply to the Arabs would be perceived as Israeli sanctions against the civilian population and therefore should be avoided.
In February 2015, the IEC disconnected the cities of Shechem and Jenin twice, over PA debts that reached 1.9 billion shekels ($500 million). Earlier, Israel froze half a billion shekels ($133 million) in taxes it collects on behalf of the PA. The PA then complained to the Criminal Court in the Hague, and Jerusalem and Ramallah reached a compromise that resulted in half a billion shekels ($133 million) going to pay the IEC, and one billion shekels ($260 million) being handed over to the PA.