JISR AL-ZARQA, Israel, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- Residents of an Israeli Arab village have been without water for two weeks because of mounting debt to a water company that is demanding payment.
The water in Jisr al-Zarqa, north of Caesarea in Israel, has been disconnected for about 10 hours a day as some residents of the village haven't paid their bills to Mekorot, the water company, Haaretz reported Friday.
Residents accuse Mekorot of punishing the entire community for the debt of some individuals.
"There is no water in the village most of the day, including in schools and mosques," said Jisr al-Zarqa resident Hassan Ali. "Some people here haven't paid their bill for 20 years. But Mekorot is imposing a collective punishment on everyone, turning villagers into victims and holding them hostage to pressure the local council to pay up."
Ali and a group of local activists from the village and surrounding area have launched a campaign against the water cut to Jisr al-Zarqa.
"We intend to act on all levels, including lobbying Knesset members and taking legal steps," says Ali. "The residents are fighting for their survival. We've become accustomed to life without water. We are protesting against the infringement of a basic right and the collective punishment Mekorot is subjecting the entire village to. We want to place it on the public agenda."
The village has been subjected to sporadic water cut-offs since March, but when debt reached $1,351,170 in September, Mekorot started shutting off the water supply daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"People are simply not paying up," said local council head Az-a-Din Amash. "The water bill isn't their top priority. They pay their electricity and cellphone bills, but not water. My complaint isn't against Mekorot -- it is like a milk supplier to a store. If the store owner fails to pay, they stop delivering the goods. People don't pay unless they are punished."
The local council and the Interior Ministry are working on plans to recover unpaid debts. Last month the council hired a debt collection agency that foreclosed debtors' bank accounts. The collection agency will stop debtors from leaving the country, repossess their cars and take other measures against those who fail to pay their water bills.