High Court Rules Power Cuts to Non-Paying Palestinians Violate Human Rights

YERUSHALAYIM -

The Israeli High Court ruled on Wednesday that power cuts imposed on Palestinian areas because of huge unpaid bills amounted to human-rights violations, Globes reported.

The ruling came in response to a petition submitted by the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO), which argued that disruptions in the electrical supply to hospitals and public institutions “could jeopardize lives and assets,” causing “a grave human-rights violation affecting many consumers by reducing their ability to use a vital resource.”

The Israel Electric Company responded to the Court ruling by saying: “The IEC respects the High Court ruling but demands the issue over the growing debts of JDECO which reach NIS 1.4 billion be resolved quickly. JDECO debts continue to grow to an astronomic figure; like any other business, it is the legitimate right and the responsibility of IEC to take the necessary measures to resolve a problematic debt which has been a burden for all Israeli electricity consumers.”

The total debt Palestinians owe IEC is 1.7 billion shekels. Because of the unpaid bills, IEC instituted a 50 percent cut to the electricity supplied to Jericho, Beit Lechem, and Chevron two weeks ago. IEC had planned to reduce the supply to a different Palestinian area each day over the past two weeks, but the parties reached an interim arrangement and JDECO will pay NIS 60 million to end the electricity restrictions for two weeks for talks over a permanent agreement.

he High Court of Justice issued an interim injunction on Tuesday ruling out cuts in the electricity supply to East Jerusalem, after Israel Electric Corporation initiated power cuts over unpaid debts from the Palestinian Authority and the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO).

JDECO petitioned the High Court, claiming the reduced power supply was a grave human rights violation which will hurt Israel’s international standing while proving the IEC abuses its monopoly.

IEC supplies most of the electricity to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A financial crisis several years ago caused the Palestinian Authority to miss salary payments to its 150,000 public servants; it later delayed payment of its electric bills or simply avoided them.

The total debt Palestinians owe IEC is NIS 1.7 billion. Because of the unpaid bills, IEC instituted a 50 percent cut to the electricity supplied Jericho, Bethlehem, and Hebron some two weeks ago. IEC had planned to reduce the supply to a different West Bank area each day over the past two weeks, but the parties reached an interim arrangement JDECO will pay NIS 60 million to end the electricity restrictions for two weeks for talks over a permanent agreement.

Gaza, on the other hand, carries no debt because the Israeli government takes its payment from the tax revenues raised by the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, JDECO successfully appealed to the High Court. The petition, submitted by Adv. Michael Ginsburg and Anat Klein from GKH, claimed the cuts and disruptions in the power supply to hospitals and public institutions “could jeopardize lives and assets” which entailed “a grave human rights violation affecting many consumers by reducing their ability to use a vital resource.”

JDECO insisted it was not an IEC client like any other. “The petitioner is a provider of vital services as defined by law. Restrictions to the power supply of a provider of vital services which is relied upon by many consumers is not a simple task, and should be coordinated with the relevant agents given its consequences. But IEC chose to waive the unique status of the petitioner as a provider of vital services and treat it as any other customer.”

IEC responded to the ruling: “The Israel Electric Corporation respects the High Court ruling but demands the issue over the growing debts of JDECO which reach NIS 1.4 billion be resolved quickly. JDECO debts continue to grow to an astronomic figure; like any other business, it is the legitimate right and the responsibility of IEC to take the necessary measures to resolve a problematic debt which has been a burden for all Israeli electricity consumers.”