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PORTSIDE  February 2012, Week 3

PORTSIDE February 2012, Week 3

Subject:

Tilting at Windmills - Palestinian Villages May Soon Go Dark Once Again

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Date:

Thu, 16 Feb 2012 20:41:49 -0500

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Tilting at Windmills

    Palestinian Villages May Soon Go Dark Once
    Again

by Juliane von Mittelstaedt
Spiegel (Germany)
February 16, 2012

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,815476,00.html#ref=nlint

Several small Palestinian villages in the West Bank had been
without electricity for decades -- before an Israeli
foundation with funding from Europe recently installed solar
panels and wind turbines. Now, though, Israel wants to
remove the facilities because they are on land under its
administration.

The best part is when the lights in the tents go on, one by
one, says Elad Orian. Electricity here, in the hills south
of Hebron, was long unreliable. Either it was not available
or it was too expensive, produced for just a few hours each
day by a noisy, diesel-guzzling generator. That changed when
Elad Orian and Noam Dotan, two Israeli physicians who had
tired of conflict, came along three years ago and installed
solar panels and erected wind turbines. Since then, such
facilities have been installed in 16 communities, providing
1,500 Palestinians with electricity.

The women here no longer have to make their butter by hand;
they can refrigerate the sheep's cheese, which is their
livelihood; and their children can do their homework at
night. Now they can sit together and watch TV -- and connect
to a world that seems far removed from their lives on the
edge of the Judaean Desert. It is but a small revolution,
achieved at little cost. But it is a good example of
successful development aid.

The success, though, could soon be a thing of the past.
Israel has threatened to tear them down with five
municipalities in recent weeks having received "stop work"
orders -- the first step on the road to demolition. The
problem is that the facilities are in the so-called Area C,
which covers 60 percent of the West Bank and is administered
by Israel. Permission from the Israelis is a requirement
before construction projects can move ahead -- and permits
are almost never given to Palestinians.

'A Clear Signal'

The result is that Area C residents face poor roads and a
lack of electricity and water. Farming is impossible, and
the construction of factories forbidden. As a result, only
150,000 Palestinians live in Area C -- and 310,000 well-
supplied Israeli settlers. The solar project helps make life
a bit more bearable for Palestinians in Area C. That,
though, would appear to be something that Israel does not
want.

"The demolition orders are meant to send a clear signal to
all European Union countries: Do not interfere, do not
invest in Area C," says project founder Noam Dotan.

Some of the facilities have already been there for two
years, which makes it hard to believe that they have only
just been noticed now. Above all, the decision sends a
signal to Germany which has provided most funds for the
project, or a total of roughly _600,000 ($791,300). The
project was carried out by the aid organization Medico
International in cooperation with Comet-ME, the organization
founded by the two Israelis.

European diplomats in Ramallah and Tel Aviv suspect that the
demolition orders are a reaction to a recently drafted,
unusually critical EU report on the situation in Area C. It
states: "The window for a two-state solution is closing
rapidly with the continued expansion of Israeli
settlements." The conclusion: The EU needs to target
investment in economic development and improved living
conditions of Palestinians in Area C.

Political Talking Point

A few months ago, a similar project co-financed by the
Spanish government was scheduled for demolition, something
which has been prevented thus far through massive diplomatic
pressure.

Projects funded by foreign aid organizations or the EU have
often been destroyed in the past, the best known example
being the Gaza airport, financed with $38 million from the
EU only to be destroyed by Israeli bombs a short time after
its construction. Generally, though, the demolitions have
been the result of security concerns. The fact that harmless
solar cells -- installations which are funded by allied
countries to provide basic humanitarian needs -- are at risk
of demolition is a new development.

As such, when German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle
traveled to Israel two weeks ago, he not only spoke to Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak
about the peace process and Iran's nuclear program, but also
about wind turbines and solar panels in places like Shaab
al-Buttum.

Hundreds of people live in the village, and they are the
poorest of the poor. A community of shepherds, they moved
freely through the area until Israel occupied the West Bank
in 1967. Since then, they have settled, collecting rain
water during the winter and buying expensive drinking water
brought in by a truck along a gravel track in the summer. A
well-maintained road to the settlement doesn't exist,
despite the fact that Shaab al-Buttum lies between two
Israeli outposts. The settlements are illegal, but
miraculously they have all the basics their Palestinian
neighbors are missing: electricity, water and roads.

Social Changes

However, over the past four months, two wind turbines and 40
solar panels have supplied the villagers with energy: 40 to
60 kilowatt-hours each day. It is just enough to heat one
square meter of a well-insulated house for a year -- or
enough to supply a whole village.

Since the arrival of electricity, Israeli anthropologist
Shuli Hartman, 60, has been living in the village. She
wanted to find out what electricity does to people. She
observed that women have more time because their workload is
reduced and they can earn more. She saw they became more
independent, using mobile phones, which they couldn't even
charge until recently. And she saw how a village in which
every family used to struggle to survive is now learning to
become a community. An elderly villager told her:
"Electricity for us is like water to a person walking
through the desert." Her life has become a bit easier as a
result of the mini-power station.

Last but not least, the project has brought together
Israelis and Palestinians. "The Palestinians here had
previously only known Israelis as settlers and soldiers,"
says Hartman.

"We did not want to just demonstrate and remain part of the
conflict; we wanted to be part of the solution," explains
Noam Dotan. But a solution is apparently not wanted. In the
absence of a small miracle, the tents in Shaab al-Buttum
will soon be dark once again.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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