On Monday, West Bank Palestinian residents lost electricity due to unpaid taxes. The area that was affected was in and around the largest West Bank city of Nablus. The outage was in response to Palestinian local electrical companies failing to pay taxes. The state-ran Israel Electrical Company (IEC) warns that outages in the West Bank such as this could become a routine annoyance for the people of the area if these debts are not paid.
The reason Palestine has fallen behind on their payments on their debts is because the Palestinian Authority has chosen to join the International Criminal Court in Hague. This is in response to what Palestinians are alleging are Israel’s war crimes. In fact, they are insisting that the outage in the West Bank itself is a war crime. The estimated 700,000 people who experienced about an hour without electricity Monday are being seen by some as being victims of a punishment by the IEC for joining the International Criminal Court.
Although these two forces have clashed violently recently, this new tension between them that caused West Bank residents to go without electricity, is set against a new backdrop. In response to these unpaid taxes Israel froze in excess of $240 million in tax revenue. This revenue was originally collected by Israel for the Palestinian Authority but after their joining the International court and not paying their electricity, it has been become collateral.
This latest hindrance on Palestinian cash flow only worsens the financial situation for what is a government strapped for cash. They are now unable to compensate their own civil servants. Others in the West Bank whose income was cut by up to 60 percent have traded their cars for donkeys to able to feed their families.
Yiftah Ron-Tal, director of the IEC, spoke in Jerusalem Monday at a conference addressing the ballooning electricity debt the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is creating with his company. Ron-Tal explained that traditionally when people, specifically those who do not live in the West Bank, do not pay their electricity bill they have their service turned-off. He continued on to say, “yet here we have an entire population, (the West Bank) that doesn’t pay while we continue to supply electricity.” The amount that he estimated owed by the population in the West Bank is about $500 million. Ron-Tal emphasized that this is an issue that needs to be addressed because he said the same thing last year and still nothing has happened.
This issue in the West Bank all goes on while violence remains a concern in the region. There has been a reported increase in attacks by Palestinians against Israelis using guns, vehicles and knives as weapons. Most recently a Palestinian named Jihad Jaadari was killed while Israeli forces were searching a refugee camp.
The man was reported to be asleep until he heard noise after which he went on his roof to get a better look. Spokesperson for the Israeli military said that the forces were being confronted by a violent crowd that was hurling blocks, firebombs, and stones. Upon seeing the man on his roof, they thought he was another attacker and shot.
The electricity outage experienced by West Bank residents is yet another escalation of this ongoing conflict. The Israeli Government, with regards to this incident, has publicly stated they were not behind the decision of IEC to cut the power.
By Joel Wickwire