Israel Threatens Renewable Energy in West Bank
Israel says solar panels and wind turbines built in small West Bank villages were installed without permits. Now the state threatens to demolish the renewable energy systems. Host Bruce Gellerman speaks to Elan Orian, an Israeli whose company helped bring alternative energy to the West Bank, and Shuli Hartman, an anthropologist studying the region.
GELLERMAN: Last year, we broadcast a story about the installation of solar panels and wind turbines in Palestinian and Bedouin communities on the West Bank. We have an update but first, this snippet of our original story from reporter Zak Rosen at the village of Tha'le.
[AWAD SPEAKING ARABIC]
ROSEN: This is Jameel Awad. He’s 47 years old and has lived in Tha’le for his entire life. He wears chunky, brown, work boots and a blue kafia on his head.
[AWAD SPEAKING ARABIC]
SHAHAM: He said that with the electricity they will have light and they will have chadada, which is the butter churning, electrical butter churning, and he is saying we’re going to have television and the woman can have a better time and they can rest better.
ROSEN: Before they had electricity, the women here would spend up to three hours manually churning butter with the skin of a goat. But now, they can buy electric butter churners. Saving lots of time and energy.
GELLERMAN: Well, since we aired that story, the Israeli Government has ordered the villages' solar panels and wind turbines be demolished. Israel administers this part of the West Bank and says residents never got construction permits. Elad Orian founded the group that put up the renewable energy systems. Welcome to Living on Earth.
ORIAN: Thank you.
GELLERMAN: So, did you know that you were building solar and wind turbines in places that it was illegal?
ORIAN: Yes. The short answer would be yes. The way the Israeli occupation forces look at it, the whole community is illegal, although they have been living there well documented at least since the 19th century. So there is not a way for us to have done it.
GELLERMAN: So, you couldn't have applied for a permit?
ORIAN: No. I mean, we could have applied, but the answer would be no.
GELLERMAN: So, how many Palestinians in the West Bank there have you managed to supply with electricity from the solar cells and the wind turbines?
ORIAN: About 1,500.
GELLERMAN: So, all of these many years, these 15 hundred people that you’ve been providing with renewable power, they didn’t have any electricity at all?
ORIAN: Before, most of them did not. Some had diesel generators but mostly they did not have electricity before.
GELLERMAN: Now, the Israeli communities that are there, do they have electricity?
ORIAN: The Israeli settlements in the West Bank are connected to the Israeli grid. Moreover, even illegal settlements, so settlements that are illegal by Israeli standards not by international standards, even these get connected to the Israeli power grid and have, you know, regular electricity.
GELLERMAN: So, do you have any legal recourse?
ORIAN: Well, you have two populations that live, in some cases, literally meters apart, Palestinian and Israeli citizens, and these two populations are under completely different legal systems. The Israeli settlers, although they are formally outside the state of Israel, are under Israeli civilian law, while the Palestinians who live on their native land are under military law.
GELLERMAN: So, the Israeli government, the military authority that’s in charge of this part of the West Bank, they’ve issued a demolition order. Do you know when they might carry it out, when they might bulldoze the systems?
ORIAN: Unless we are able to postpone it, theoretically the bulldozers can come on Monday, the sixth of March.
GELLERMAN: When the bulldozers come, where will you be?
ORIAN: I’ll be there, that’s for sure. But I really do hope that we’re not going to go that route.
GELLERMAN: What do the Palestinians think of you when you come to them with this type of news?
ORIAN: I cannot speak on behalf of all Palestinians, but there is great fear, I mean, in these communities. Can you imagine living without electricity?
GELLERMAN: Elad Orian is the founder of the group Community Energy and Technology in the Middle East. It installed the renewable energy systems in the West Bank.
Israeli anthropologist Shuli Hartman has been living and working in the villages that got the solar panels and wind turbines.
HARTMAN: Let me tell you something. I was there, you know, a few weeks ago and an elderly man, and there was someone there from one of the media and he asked me to ask this man what change did electricity make to your life, and he said, ‘It was like giving water to a sick man.’
Before they had electricity it’s one thing, but after they have it to take it from them, it’s going to be very, very hard. You must realize that these people are very poor and they are just living on the survival sort of level, so first of all saving money, but then in terms of work, daily work, and especially for the women, work that has taken hours has become so much easier.
They used to sit for two hours washing. Now, they work with a machine and they can do some other things at the same time.
GELLERMAN: So, these labor saving devices have changed women and their ability to do work. Has it affected their roles in the family?
HARTMAN: Look, it’s too short a time. You don’t see dramatic changes. But what you do see is that they have more time to be with the children. In the morning, the women are cleaning, yes, but if they are cleaning they are using radio. And sometimes they hear the Qur’an or sometimes they hear music, or sometimes they hear some kind of a program and they are connected to the world.
I want to give you just two other points. Some of the herds are herded by 14, 13, 15 year old children. These children that when they tell us that they are not interested in studies and so on, when they followed the whole process of installing this clean electricity and they took part in it because they helped, you know, they became really interested in the process. They began to ask me, you know, whether they can get some books, to understand how it works. So, it’s like re-opening a game, the mind of children that already sort of gave up on these kinds of things. You know, I hope people will realize how important this is for this community
GELLERMAN: Isreali social anthropologist Shuli Hartman. We asked the Israeli government about the demolition order. Yigal Palmor from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says the solar panels and wind turbines went up without permits. And he adds that had the West Bank villagers applied for the permits, they probably would have gotten them. The government of Germany, which paid for the systems, has complained to Israel's Prime Minister. And, as of now, the demolition order is suspended.
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