No, Israel doesn’t give Gaza electricity for free

Some senior figures in Israel are telling fairy tales.

By Itamar Sha’altiel

High tension electricity lines in southern Israel belonging to the Israel Electric Corporation (Illustrative photo by David King CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
High tension electricity lines in southern Israel belonging to the Israel Electric Corporation (Illustrative photo by David King CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A number of journalists and figures in the Israeli media and public sphere have been making the claim recently that Israel provides free electricity to Hamas and the Gaza Strip, generally as part of an argument that the Israel is paying the Gazan government protection money in exchange for quiet along the southern border.

The claims have been made in articles, opeds, comments sections, online videos, and even by those who should really know better — like Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) Director Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yiftah Ron-Tal.

First of all, that’s utter nonsense. Israel sells the Palestinians electricity, it doesn’t give it to them, it doesn’t gift it to them, and it doesn’t just transmit it for free. Unlike the situation in the West Bank, where there is indeed a growing debt to the IEC, payment for electricity in Gaza is automatically and immediately deducted from tax funds Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

In other words, Gaza does not owe any money to the Israel Electric Corporation. There is no debt. Nada. Haaretz’s Amira Hass wrote about it at some point, but the organization I work for, Gisha, checked with the Palestinian Finance Ministry in Ramallah. They informed us that Gaza’s electric bill is settled unilaterally. Israel only informs the Palestinians afterward.

The Palestinian Authority does indeed have a debt to the Israel Electric Corporation, but the size of that debt is a mere fraction of the IEC’s own debt, which according to the Israeli State Comptroller stood at NIS 71 billion ($18 billion) in 2014, which is primarily the result of the IEC’s own financial mismanagement and not the nonpayment of the Palestinian Authority.

It’s not difficult to imagine why the director of the IEC might want to talk about Palestinian debt instead of his own, but it is still surprising to see how people believe that their country is giving out free electricity to the Palestinians (and soon, natural gas, according to some fantasists). The Gaza Strip presents Israel with serious, concrete and difficult policy dilemmas regarding security, logistics and economics. To talk about those Israeli policies the same way we tell fairy tales, however, doesn’t help anyone, certainly not Israelis.

Itamar Sha’altiel is the new media director at Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. This article represents his own views. A version of this article was also published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.