IEC pole at Gethsemane angers monks
Electric tower mars view of Old City, Temple Mount from Church of All Nations.
Garden of Gethsemane Photo: MELANIE LIDMAN
The serene Garden of Gethsemane is famous among the nearly two million Christian
tourists who visit each year as a place to reflect on Jerusalem’s biblical
beauty and the sights that Jesus supposedly saw 2,000 years ago. So the
Franciscan monks at the Church of All Nations were surprised a few weeks ago to
find a giant electric transmission tower marring their quiet corner of the
The 5-meter tall transmission tower was placed on the road next
to the Church of All Nations approximately six weeks ago to provide electricity
to Ma’aleh HaZeitim, a Jewish apartment complex in the Ras al-Amud neighborhood,
and some of the Jewish homes in the City of David, located inside the adjacent
Now the Custodia di Santa Terra, which oversees the
Garden of Gethsemane, is petitioning the Israel Electric Corporation and the
City of Jerusalem to remove the tower, claiming it is both unnecessary and
“The large transmission tower obstructs the view of the Old City
from the prayer garden of the church, which is used by pilgrims,” the petition
stated. “One of the major reasons for the church’s popularity is the unique view
of the Temple Mount and the Old City, and the transmission tower completely
destroys this uniqueness.”
On Wednesday, Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court
Judge Mirit Fohrer referred the matter to the Jerusalem District Court for
“The tower was built according to the law and
received all of the necessary permits from the various groups,” an Electric
Corporation spokeswoman said. Placement of electric towers is coordinated
through the municipality, the Interior Ministry, environmental groups and any
affected parties. The spokeswoman said that the tower received approval from
every group, though she was unsure if the Franciscan monks had been contacted
about its placement.
A Jerusalem Municipality spokeswoman said the
tower’s placement was determined by the Electric Corporation and the
municipality plays no part in the decision process.
The tower’s prominent
location raises a number of issues, including the lack of respect for Christian
holy sites in Jerusalem, Daniel Seidemann, the founder of the Ir Amim NGO, said
“This is an emblematic electricity pole,” he said. “This
would never have happened at the Western Wall because we’re sensitive to that,
and it would never would have happened on [the Temple Mount] because there would
have been rioting. The rights of the Christians were not picked up on, they were
not sensitive to that.”
East Jerusalem Arabs receive their electricity
through the East Jerusalem Electric Company, a practice that dates back to the
Aside from being the largest employer in east Jerusalem,
the electric company is also a source of Palestinian pride.
the city’s electricity grid was divided geographically into east and
Immediately after the Six Day War, the Jewish ring neighborhoods
including East Talpiyot and Gilo had electricity that was provided by the East
Jerusalem Electric Company.
However, residents demanded to be connected
to the Israeli grid after 20 years, citing spotty service.
Irving Moskowitz, the millionaire American who bankrolled Ma’aleh HaZeitim and a
number of other east Jerusalem Jewish compounds, demanded that the complex be
linked to the Israel Electric Corporation, rather than the Arab company. Because
the IEC is a state monopoly, per Israeli law any citizen can demand to be
connected to its grid. If they have a legally built home, the IEC must provide
them with electricity if they ask.
According to Seidemann, electricity in
the capital is provided on the basis of ethnicity rather than geography. “Having
distribution of electricity based on ethnicity or the national identity of the
person receiving it doesn’t look good,” he said. “This narrows the comfort zone
between Israel and regimes we don’t want to be associated with.”
tower’s completion a number of weeks ago means the Jewish apartments in Ma’aleh
HaZeitim and the City of David are now on the Israeli system rather than the
Arab system. The administrative court will examine the petition in the upcoming
weeks and rule on whether the tower should be moved to another location.