IEC pole at Gethsemane angers monks

Electric tower mars view of Old City, Temple Mount from Church of All Nations.

The electricity tower outside the Garden of Gethsemane 370 (photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
The electricity tower outside the Garden of Gethsemane 370
(photo credit: 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 capital.
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 Silwan neighborhood.
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 harmful.
“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 Administrative Matters.
“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 on Wednesday.
“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 British Mandate.
Aside from being the largest employer in east Jerusalem, the electric company is also a source of Palestinian pride.
Previously, the city’s electricity grid was divided geographically into east and west.
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.
In 2003, 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.”
The 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.