By Joharah Baker
Israel is zeroing in on so many levels. In Jerusalem, it can be seen with the naked eye – bulldozers tearing down homes, lands leveled for “Torah and Talmudic” gardens, children being arrested, and solidarity tents given 72 hours to dismantle before being demolished. In the West Bank, settlements are spreading like cancer cells while settlers are taking their cue from their government, which has mostly given them a free reign to run wild.
The point is, the Palestinians have so much going against them that they have every reason in the world to band together, not only politically but in various social aspects where, frankly, they aren’t.
Last week, the Israeli electric company sent a letter to the Palestinian Jerusalem Electric Company warning them that if they did not pay their back dues soon, Israel would simply start turning off the lights. According to Omar Kittaneh, head of the Palestinian energy authority, the Jerusalem Electric Company owes an accumulative bill of about $200 million. While he does attribute some of this crisis to the rising price of electricity and fuel and does acknowledge that the people are unhappy with the rise in electricity bills, he was sure to convey a crystal clear message: pay your bills.
This is something that is highly disturbing for any Palestinian looking into his/her own society. Kittaneh was saying that the average percentage of Palestinians who pay their electricity bills in cities is around 80%-85%. This does not seem like such a horrible rate, some might say. But considering that much of Palestinian society is rural and then hearing the statistics from villages and towns, the situation turns dire very quickly. Add to that the payment rates in refugee camps and the problem is almost overwhelming.
According to Kittaneh, only 40%-50% of subscribers pay their electricity bills in Palestinian villages. In refugee camps, he says the number is close to zero. Again, while he acknowledges the tough economic conditions many Palestinians live under, he says it is not the neediest who are necessarily the ones not paying their bills, or even worse, stealing electricity from their neighbors.
During his interview with Voice of Palestine, Kittaneh appealed to the people, saying such depraved behavior is “not part of our culture or heritage”. He also said that when they don’t pay, the burden falls unfairly on others.
What he didn’t say was such behavior ignores its own long term effects. The Palestinians need to focus on uniting at all levels, including embracing fairness and honesty among themselves, if they are ever going to win the much larger battle against Israel. The rift between Hamas and Fatah, which is hopefully on the mend as we speak, has been the most damaging ramification of what can only be called poor judgment among the people and the failure to see beyond the tip of one’s nose. Hamas and Fatah fought like cats and dogs over illusionary power and forgot that Israel was sitting back and enjoying the show. The recent arrest of PLC Speaker Aziz Dweik was the latest proof that their squabbling over power is nothing more than smokescreens and mirrors.
Likewise, those who think it is all right to dump their electricity expenses on others just to save a few shekels do not realize that this is what is being taught to an entire generation. How are we to lead a national struggle, which requires honesty and commitment and the transcendence of individual interests for the sake of the whole when we are cheating each other?
Let us hope that today’s signing of the “Doha Agreement” between President Abbas and Khaled Meshaal will be the beginning of a new era for the Palestinians. We can achieve national reconciliation – it has always been within our reach. But let us not forget that our social and moral compass is just as important as our political one. In fact, if we do not point it due north, what kind of country and society are we aspiring for?
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at [email protected]