Electricity is a basic human right
Four years ago, the state prohibited companies from disconnecting water for those who did not pay their bills. In doing so, the state took an important step to protect the rights of impoverished Israelis. It is high time to do the same for electricity.
Seven years have passed since Moshe Silman died by setting himself on fire in protest of the economic crisis he found himself in due to heavy debt. Since then, the state has taken a few steps to help the impoverished and those in debt. Despite this, these past seven years were not particularly good. Only a small number of laws that provide any sort of protection on debtors were passed, and there are still unsupervised channels of collection. The rights of the poor continue to be violated.
Just because a person has debt does not mean that they are neglectful with their money, that they are parasites, or that they’re lazy. Often, we are talking about people for whom their means of basic support and sustenance simply are not enough. Some have disabilities and live off of state subsidies, while others work hard but receive little payment. Or, we are talking about single mothers who support families on their own. In order to survive, to pay for rent, food and medicine, they have no choice but to fall into debt. Some of the debts owed were created when people received “credit” from the state, but were unable to repay it. This can often happen with municipal taxes, water and electricity, which are paid after the period of consumption.
Four years ago, the state prohibited companies from disconnecting water for people who did not pay their bills. This was an important step in protecting poor people’s rights. It is high time to do something similar in a field that many of us use do not give much thought to, simply because it is always there - electricity.
Both in the hot summer days and in the cold winter days, when most of us turn on the air conditioning or the heat and separate ourselves from the outside temperatures, tens of thousands of people in Israel live without electricity. Although living without electricity is felt more intensely in the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter, a year-round a lack of electricity is deeply challenging. Would you be able to live without a refrigerator? No washing machine or lights at night? What about hot water? Or charging your cellphone?
Electricity is not a luxury. Think about the old, sickly man, whose medicine must be kept in a refrigerator, who suddenly finds himself without electricity; the baby who needs inhalers; the old lady who warms her home with an outdoor grill; the child who is too embarrassed to invite his school friends to his house. ACRI has received hundreds of requests regarding electricity in the past years, requests from deeply impoverished families who are living without electricity. These are the poorest, most vulnerable people in our society, those who sometimes go without food. And, all of this is happening with the approval and supervision of the State of Israel.
The most frequent form of debt collection for the Israel Electric Corporation is to disconnect people from their electricity. It is simpler and easier to cut off electricity than to receive a writ of execution and go to collection agencies. Because electricity is so essential, people pay. They pay for electricity and in turn sacrifice food for their children, medicine for themselves, and other urgent, essential needs.
ACRI, together with Tel Aviv University’s Clinic for Human Rights and the Union of Social Workers, recently petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding that no one, even those in debt, be cut off from electricity, as electricity is a basic condition of the right to live with dignity.
The State of Israel has already determined that a debtor should not be left without means to life, but the Israel Electric Corporation has managed to bypass this. For example, the state has prohibited repossessing essential devices, including: washing machines, refrigerators, televisions and computers. These essential items cannot function without electricity. But, the Israel Electric Corporation can still disconnect electricity with the permission and authority of the Electricity Authority and Minister of Energy.
Electricity is a public resource, it belongs to all of us, even the poor amongst us. Access to electricity is a human right.