Electricity pole sparks tension between Vatican and Jerusalem municipality

Six weeks ago, Franciscan monks discovered a huge, unsightly pylon in front of the impressive church overlooking the Garden of Gethsemane.


An electricity pylon erected in front of the Church of All Nations in East Jerusalem is sparking tensions between Israel and the Vatican. The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land submitted on Wednesday an administrative appeal against the Jerusalem municipality and the Israel Electric Corp, claiming that the municipality approved the action illegally.

The offending pylon near the Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane.

The offending pylon near the Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane. - Photo by Michal Fattal

Six weeks ago Franciscan monks discovered a huge, unsightly pylon in front of the impressive church overlooking the Garden of Gethsemane. The two electric lines leading from the pylon were labeled “Ir David,” and “Ma’aleh Zeitim,” the two large Jewish settlements in the area. The pylon was erected as part of a separate electricity infrastructure meant to serve East Jerusalem settlers, who demanded to be connected to the Israel Electric Corporation instead of the Palestinian East Jerusalem Electricity Company.

“The huge pylon obstructs the view of the Old City from the prayer garden of the church used by pilgrims,” reads the petition. “One of the significant reasons for the popularity of the church is the unique view of the Temple Mount and the Old City, and the pylon utterly destroys this uniqueness.”

“This is one of the most important and sacred sites of the Christian world,” says Farid Jubran, the legal advisor of the Franciscan Custody. “The Custody opposes this opportunistic move, which was carried out without permits and in contradiction of the law. Erecting the pylon is a callous violation of the treaties signed by Israel, while ignoring the sanctity of the site to billions of people worldwide,” Jubran added.

The petition claims there was no need to construct the pylon since there is an underground electricity line at the site. The problem, as far as the settlers are concerned, is that the underground infrastructure is part of the East Jerusalem Company’s system. The Palestinian company, founded in 1914, is a national symbol of sorts, as well as the largest employer in East Jerusalem, but the settlers consider its services inferior to those of the Israeli company, which supplies services and infrastructure to most Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem.

“The petitioners prefer to ignore the question why a separate infrastructure is needed,” reads the petition. “It seems that there might be foreign and unacceptable considerations … leading to the erection of the pylon and refraining from using the existing East Jerusalem infrastructure.”

The petition calls the court’s attention to a tweet by Aryeh King, a right-wing activist living in Ma’aleh Zeitim, who celebrated the erection of the pylon as another step toward the liberation of Jerusalem: “Finally, 45 years after Israel liberated Jerusalem from the Jordanians, an electricity pole,” King tweeted on March 28th.

Israelis in the area complain of frequent blackouts by the East Jerusalem electric company, and power spikes that damage their electrical appliances.

Attorney Danny Seidmann, founder of Ir Amim, an organization dedicated to making Jerusalem a more viable and equitable city for Israelis and Palestinians, sees the pylon as “symbolizing the advanced degeneration of Israeli rule in Jerusalem … which ignores whatever isn’t Jewish, damages the beauty of the city and represents the anomaly of the authorities that allows Jews and Palestinians in the same area to be served by two different companies … This could have happened during [past mayor] Teddy Kollek’s reign, but when he was mayor if the pylon had been erected at 7 A.M. it would already been demolished three hours later.”

A spokesperson for the Jerusalem municipality reacted: “The Israel Electric Corp. determines the need to erect electricity pylons or other structures. The municipality does not interfere in its considerations. The permits were granted according to law.”

A spokesperson for the Israel Electric Corp said: “The pylon was erected after all permits were granted, and therefore the petition is superfluous.”


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By Nir Hasso