As winter season reaches its climax in Israel, with temperatures falling below freezing in some areas, many Israelis find themselves stuck without electricity, unable to warm their homes and prepare a meal due to financial troubles.
The situation appears to be a result of a contentious payment system used is Israel, where some residents pay in advance to charge a pre-paid power usage meter, and every time they reach the limit, depending on the amount paid, the electricity automatically turns off, leaving them with no heat or light.
Rina, 55, woke up this Sunday - which was one of the coldest days in the Jewish state this year - shaking, since her apartment was cut off of electricity yet again.
"I'm always afraid because I'm living on the edge," said Rina. I suffer from a physical disability, I have a muscle disease, and it's very hard to live in this kind of condition during the winter. I also struggle financially, and on Sunday morning I've been looking for someone who could help me, and pay to charge my electricity meter.
"But even after I found someone, it takes time and a lot of bureaucracy, and until then, I don't have electricity in my house. I find myself in situations where I'm literally frozen. I told the electricity company I might reach hypothermia, so what are they waiting for?" she said.
"Every time I charge the meter with NIS 200-250, which is all I have, and it lasts for two weeks, and that's because I'm trying to save as much as I can, so I barely turn on the heater, and I just use multiple blankets in order to not waste too much electricity."
Daliyha, 56, is in a similar situation, stuck with no electricity, while her son, daughter-in-law, and her grandchild are in her apartment isolating because they had tested positive for COVID-19.
"I have both physical and mental disability, and I live off a disability pension of only NIS 3,000 a month," Daliyha said. "And with this amount I need to pay rent, bills, purchase medicine, and food, so not much is left for electricity."
She called the situation "a disgrace," adding that "life in Israel is very expensive, and the country doesn't help".
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Israel Electric Corporation allowed its consumers to use an "emergency code" to prevent families from being left out without power. However, this service was recently canceled, even though the company claims they allow it to be used on colder days.
"The pre-paid power meter is Israel Electric Corporation's method to outsmart the poor in order not to connect them to electricity since they can't pay for it," said co-CEO of the Breaking Walls movement Carmen Elmakiyes Amos, which is an organization that promotes public campaigns and civic, feminist community activism - publicly funded and for the benefit of the public.
The organization approached the Israel Electric Corporation with an emergency request to change the policy of cutting off electricity to those who have a pre-paid meter due to their financial struggle.
"It's a bad system that leaves people without power on cold days," Elmakiyes added. "Thousands of families live in existential anxiety that maybe tomorrow morning there will be no electricity at home and that's crazy. Electricity is a fundamental right and we will continue to fight for it."
The Israel Electric Corporation said in a comment: "In extreme weather, as we are experiencing these days, emergency codes are pre-ordered to be provided without immediate charge for all who demand it.
"The company also provides service for customers with financial difficulties known to the welfare authorities. For nearly two years, since the outbreak of the coronavirus, the company has provided emergency codes with no limit."
The company said the so-called emergency use codes used by the needy ultimately create a debt, which is then paid by the taxpayers' funds.
"As a rule, a prepaid electricity meter is not necessarily installed only for underprivileged groups of consumers, unless the customer found it to be the best solution to efficiently manage the power usage in his household," the company added.