Israel’s Destruction of Solar Panels in the West Bank
I returned ten days ago from a week of teaching international humanitarian law in Jericho. It was my first time in the West Bank, and I won’t soon forget it. I was particularly struck, not surprisingly, by the limitations on Palestinian life and movement — the endless checkpoints, the hideous wall, the massive illegal settlements dotting the landscape. You know you’re not in Melbourne or New York when you have to wait an hour for a taxi to come from Jerusalem to take you to the Dead Sea, less than 10 minutes from your hotel, because the local taxi drivers don’t have the permits needed to make the journey.
All that is a backdrop to a recent article in The Guardian that I found indescribably sad:
Two large solar panels jut out of the barren landscape near Imneizil in the Hebron hills. The hi-tech structures sit incongruously alongside the tents and rough stone buildings of the Palestinian village, but they are fundamental to life here: they provide electricity.
Imneizil is not connected to the national electricity grid. Nor are the vast majority of Palestinian communities in Area C, the 62% of the West Bank controlled by Israel. The solar energy has replaced expensive and clunky oil-powered generators.
According to the Israeli authorities, these solar panels – along with six others in nearby villages – are illegal and have been slated for demolition.
Nihad Moor, 25, has three small children. The family live in a two-room tent kitted out with a fridge, TV and very old computer. She also has a small electric butter churn, which she uses to supplement her husband’s small income from sheep farming.
“The kids get sick all the time. At the moment, because of a change in the weather, they all have colds. Without electricity I wouldn’t even be able to see to help them when they need to use the [outdoor] toilet at night,” Moor says. “I don’t want to imagine what life would be like here if [the panels] were demolished.”
Imneizil’s solar system was built in 2009 by the Spanish NGO Seba at a cost of €30,000 to the Spanish government. According to the Israeli authorities, it was built without a permit.
The problem for Palestinian communities here is that permission to build any infrastructure is very hard to come by. According to figures from the civil administration quoted by the pressure group Peace Now, 91 permits were issued for Palestinian construction in Area C between 2001 and 2007. In the same period, more than 10,000 Israeli settlement units were built and1,663 Palestinian structures demolished.
The Jewish settlements in Area C are connected to the national water and electricity grids. But most Palestinian villages are cut off from basic infrastructure, including water and sewage services. Imneizil, which borders the ultra-religious settlement of Beit Yatir, currently has nine demolition orders on various structures, including a toilet block and water cistern for the school.
One UN expert, speaking anonymously as they are not authorised to talk to the media, believes the crackdown on the alternative energy movement by the Israelis is part of a deliberate strategy in Area C. “From December 2010 to April 2011, we saw a systematic targeting of the water infrastructure in Hebron, Bethlehem and the Jordan valley,” the source said. “Now, in the last couple of months, they are targeting electricity. Two villages in the area have had their electrical poles demolished.
“There is this systematic effort by the civil administration targeting all Palestinian infrastructure in Hebron. They are hoping that by making it miserable enough, they [the Palestinians] will pick up and leave.”
It’s a vicious logic: don’t connect Palestinian communities to the national electrical grid; deny permits to build solar alternatives; then demolish solar panels that are “illegally” built. All to open up room to expand Israel’s illegal settlements.
There is no question that Israel has legitimate security interests in the West Bank. But that doesn’t justify depriving people of their basic human needs.