Palestinian solar power: why Israel may turn out the lights
As peace negotiations remain stalled, a project to bring rural electrification to Palestinian communities in the West Bank faces demolition by Israel.
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Major Guy Inbar, a spokesman for Israeli military authorities, said of the demolition orders: "All the tents and buildings have been built illegally. Of course the solar panels were also built illegally. Using the backing of international assistance does not give immunity to violations." He stressed, however, that no final decision has been taken yet regarding the fate of the panels and turbines and that a subcommittee of military administrators is studying the matter.Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. al-Najar, an amiable but illiterate woman who wore a traditional black dress with purple embroidery, is worried that the power may now be cut off. She says the electricity has given her a chance for the first time ever "to relax a little. Work is hard. I worked all my life, first with my father and now with my children. Our income is from sheep and it takes a lot of effort. I am happy to have some rest." She takes issue with the Israeli assertion that She'b El Buttum was built illegally, saying her forebears have lived here for generations, long before the occupation started. Her nephew, Mohammed, adds that demolitions "will put us back in the old era." That was when he used to have to walk to the town of Yatta just to charge his mobile phone.
'I wanted to do something'
Noam Dotan, who co-directs Comet-ME and constructs the wind turbines, says: "This electricity is a first step for them. Having basic needs met is the key to their development." Mr. Dotan, a retired high-tech executive and physicist, for years took part in protests on behalf of local Palestinians before deciding that "I wanted to do something for and not just against."
He said there had been no point applying for a permit to build the turbines since it would have been turned down after a long process. Instead, he built them at night to try and escape notice of the authorities for as long as possible.
An internal EU report late last year said that if Israel's policies in Area C are not stopped, the "establishment of a viable Palestinian state seems more remote than ever."
But Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, denies that Israel is harming peace prospects through its policies in Area C. "We are acting in the framework of signed agreements. We were willing to move forward to sign more agreements, but that is not happening because the Palestinians refuse to negotiate." Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has made an Israeli freeze on settlements in the West Bank a precondition to resuming peace talks
In She'b el Buttum, Mr. Dotan said of the electricity "It's not a security threat. It's a positive project. What do they want? Do they want the people to be more poor? To be more violent?"
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