Jerusalem24– The Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO) which provides power to several major areas in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem and Ramallah, began implementing on May 8 a series of power cuts imposed by the Israeli Electrical Company (IEC) to successive West Bank governorates, due to unpaid bills from customers and the resulting accumulating debt on the company.
The scheduled cuts are set to last until mid-August, with each affected area seeing six-hour cuts six times a month, though the exact schedule will change on a monthly basis.
JDECO, which provides electricity to more than 330,000 facilities serving around 1.3 million residents, has received a second warning from the IEC about their dues, prompting the scheduled cuts.
Salah Alqam, Director of Technical Affairs at JDECO, told Jerusalem24 that there will be no distinguishing between cities and villages that are liable to be subject to power cuts. “It could be cut on hospitals, governmental institutions, educational facilities, and other important institutions which serve in the people’s daily life.”
Due to the system the company uses to set up its connection points, there can be no differentiating between paying customers and those who default on payments.
As the scheduled power cuts are expected to hinder the daily lives of private citizens as well as institutions and businesses, such as hospitals, universities, or restaurants, Alqam assured Jerusalem24 that JDECO was “not taking the issue lightly”.
“There is an action plan,” said Alqam. “There are a lot of talking and meetings with people and governmental institutions and other humanitarian institutions as well as the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Finance.”
The company, he said, is putting “every effort possible into reaching a solution”, and will work to retain electricity in areas where paying customers and essential institutions are working. The company is expected to start making some switching operations through the lines where those areas and facilities are connected so as to minimize any impact.
When pressed on the issue of hospitals, Alqam asserted that the company will not cut the electricity on important institutions such as Al-Makased and Al-Motala hospitals in Jerusalem. “Important hospitals in Jerusalem do not have money to pay JDECO, and we cannot cut off electricity on them. This is not ethical and we cannot do it, because we are part of the society.”
However, he also stressed that it was important for those institutions to check their backup generators in case they do have an outage in their area.
But while hospitals and other major institutions are likely to have generators, the impact on homes as well as small business is likely to be more dire.
Basim Hasiba, an employee in Pronto Resto Café in Ramallah’s old city, told Jerusalem24 that this was the first time he was hearing of the scheduled cuts. “Why does the electricity cut, all the people pay the electricity, I’m talking about this area, where everyone is paying?”
Hasiba expressed concern that the restaurant’s refrigerators holding food and drinks would lose power for several consecutive hours, and asserted that the efficiency and quality of their work would not be the same without power. He also expressed concern about about how this would affect other industries: “We have universities and colleges, radios and televisions. Electricity is like water, we can’t live without it, and right now if they cut the electricity, the country won’t live.”
Students and administrative staff at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, east of Jerusalem, were similarly surprised to find out about a planned power outage a few hours before it was to be implemented, as the university was preparing to hold its fourth Undergraduate Research Conference on May 11.
Nadine Assi, Monitoring and Evaluation Fellow at Al-Quds Bard College (AQB), told Jerusalem24: “We did not know about or expect any electricity cuts, but on the conference day we got this news that there is going to be cuts from 11am to 5pm.”
According to Assi the university acted quickly and managed to find alternatives and keep the conference running, by dividing the conference into smaller groups and placing each one in a different room and faculty on the campus, some of which were connected to power generators. Assi said it was a challenge but that the conference was a success.
This is not the first time the electricity supply has been cut to the occupied West Bank. In December 2019, the IEC put in place daily power cuts which lasted three hours, disrupting the supply to a number of Palestinian cities. The cuts were to press for payment for what the IEC said to be $519 million owed by JDECO.