The Israel Electric Corporation has begun periodic power cuts to Palestinian areas of the West Bank over some half a billion dollars in debt owed by a Palestinian electric provider.
The daily three-hour outages began Sunday, with an IEC spokeswoman telling Reuters Wednesday the state-owned utility is “determined to collect the debt but disconnects the power in a reasonable and proportionate way.”
The IEC says it is owed $519 million by the Jerusalem District Electric Company (JDECO), which supplies power to areas around Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jericho.
The Palestinians rely on Israel for nearly all of their electricity.
The Palestinian Authority’s Wafa news agency reported Tuesday the power cuts were occurring between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m and were expected to continue over the coming days.
Hisham Omari, the chairman of JDECO, said the cuts were being felt in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethelehem, affecting some 130,000 people.
“When you have no electricity, there is no life. You stop life, you stop work, you feel the winter cold, for three hours,” Omari was quoted saying by Reuters.
He said the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority was negotiating with Israel to push off the debt repayments to end the power cuts, adding that JDECO was “trying to take a 150 million shekels ($43.25 million) loan from a Palestinian bank to help pay off the debt.”
JDECO, which does not produce its own power and buys most of its electricity from the IEC, called the cuts a form of collective punishment, according to the Walla news site.
The IEC launched a similar round of power cuts in September over the unpaid debts. According to Al-Monitor, a Washington, DC-based daily, the JDECO received its first warning in August, prompting it to take out a NIS 100 million loan ($28.3 million) to repay a portion of its debt to the IEC. This was deemed insufficient, however, and the IEC issued two additional warnings before taking action in September to reduce power to Palestinian areas.
A report in September by the Kan public broadcaster said the IEC, fearing an escalation of violence, decided to cut power gradually and only in certain areas, stepping up the penalties gradually if the debts remain unpaid.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.