In Gaza, electric cars offer a way around Israel’s blockade

Palestinian engineers say it only costs $1.50 per fill-up. Israel is also going electric with hundreds of charging stations to be installed nationwide.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Engineer Fayez Anan (left) with a Peugeot he converted to run on electricity instead of expensive gasoline.
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While gas prices of $4 per gallon may feel steep to Americans, Palestinian drivers in the Gaza Strip have faced highs of $50 per gallon.

“The people here cannot afford that kind of money, especially now,” says Waseem Khazendar, who along with Fayaz Anan has tackled the problem by building an electric car. Their prototype – a Peugeot that runs for 110 miles on a single charge from a standard electrical outlet – costs just $1.50 a charge, Mr. Anan says. “We are trying to help everyone here get through a difficult period.”

A year-long economic blockade by Israel has created shortages of everything from gasoline to food in Gaza.

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Anan’s and Mr. Khazendar’s electric car is a 1994 Peugeot 205 without a standard gas engine. It’s been converted to run on 34 standard lead-acid car batteries. At 15 horsepower, it travels at speeds of up to 60 m.p.h., and produces no emissions. “In Gaza [a 25-mile-long, 7.5-mile-wide strip], it is very sufficient,” Anan says.

More than 400 people in Gaza have lined up to have their cars converted for the fee of $2,500, he says. But due to the blockade, the duo only have enough material to convert another 30 or 40 cars, Anan says.

If a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, which began June 20, holds, Israel says it will gradually allow in the kinds of additional materials that Anan says would drop the price of the conversion to $1,700.

But US experts say they are baffled by how the two are converting cars at that price. “With the cheapest components I can imagine, it would cost around three times as much over here,” says Ron Gremban, lead engineer at CalCars.org, a Palo Alto, Calif. nonprofit group promoting plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technology.

Khazendar and Anan are electrical engineers and dream of turning their little operation into a multimillion dollar business. Khazendar has talked with an Israeli firm that specializes in intellectual property law with the aim of obtaining a patent for their alternating current engine.
Anan says that he is happy to work with Israelis – for business.

“Why not? It’s no problem for me and my partners. It is business, it is not policy. Policy is one thing and business is something else.”

Electric cars are also moving into Israel with the Silicon Valley-based firm, Better Place, which recently announced plans to develop the world’s first electric car infrastructure there.

An Israeli subsidiary of Better Place is pouring more than $100 million into building thousands of electric car charging stations around the country, says Ziva Patir, who is in charge of standardization and compliance for the firm.

By the end of 2008, there should be hundreds of charging stations operational in Israel, and half a million charging stations operating by no later than 2015, Ms. Patir says.

“This is the biggest-ever trial that will be done in clean technology. We believe that cars running on oil will be in museums within 20 years,” she says.

So far, Better Place has teamed up with Nissan-Renault to build electric cars that will run on the Israeli grid, but the company is hoping other car manufacturers will also take part in the project.

Israel, Patir says, is “a good test case because we don’t drive long distances and ... [Israelis] don’t drive to other countries.”

Asked about teaming up with Anan and Khazendar, Patir says she could not speak to company policy, but personally, “I believe that business creates peace, and any peace project is good for everybody.”

Back in Gaza City, leaning up against his proud invention, Anan seemed to agree: “Maybe we, Israelis and Palestinians, can save the world together.”

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