Civil Administration threatens alternative energy projects in southern Hebron Hills

Published: 
25 Mar 2012

In January and February, the Civil Administration issued demolition orders against alternative energy structures – 95 solar panels and six wind turbines – in six villages in the Masafer Yatta area of the southern Hebron Hills: Tha’lah, Khirbet Wadi Ejheish, Khirbet a-Nabi, Mantiqat She'b al-Baten, Qawawisand Khirbet a-Safi al-Foqa, with 500 residents in all. The structures cost some 216,000 euros to build. The villages are in Area C, under full Israeli control.

 Photo: Tomer Applebaum, Mantiqat She'b al-Baten, December 2011
Photo: Tomer Applebaum, Mantiqat She'b al-Baten, December 2011

Construction of these alternative energy structures began in 2009 in ten additional villages in this area, all by the Israeli organization Comet-ME, with German government funding and aid from the New Zealand government and Danish and Swiss NGOs. The structures supply villagers’ basic electricity needs using renewable solar and wind energy and do not pollute like diesel generators and kerosene lamps. Because Israel has avoided preparing master plans for these 16 villages, as for many other Palestinian communities, all structures, including these simple ones for clean energy, are built without a permit.

Nor does Israel allow these villages to connect to the advanced water and electricity grids it has built for nearby Israeli settlements, hence the village residents are forced to rely on water brought in by water tankers and on electricity from generators. This precludes even medical clinics; residents must travel outside the area for health services.

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Photo: Tomer Applebaum, Mantiqat She'b al-Baten, December 2011

The Palestinian villages in the Masafer Yatta area date back to the 19th century. Some of their 1,300 residents live in caves and the rest in temporary structures, earning a living as shepherds. Israeli authorities tried to evict some of the area's residents in the late 1990s, but that effort remains frozen following an appeal by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel to Israel's High Court of Justice. The HCJ has yet to rule on this appeal. The solar panels and wind turbines meanwhile allow these villagers to refrigerate the homemade cheese they market and to light their homes at night.

In recent years, Israel has made efforts to reduce the Palestinian presence in Area C, where an estimated 150,000 Palestinians live. The Civil Administration planning policy for Area C has long prevented construction and development of Palestinian communities; about a year ago, the authorities intensified their efforts against these communities. The Civil Administration prepared a plan – currently on hold – to relocate the Bedouin communities near Ma’ale Adumim; in 2011, it focused on demolishing water infrastructure – cisterns and pools for rainwater collection – and sheds for animals, especially in the Masafer Yatta area and in the Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley and around Ma’ale Adumim. Early in 2012 the Civil Administration began threatening demolition of the energy infrastructure in Area C Palestinian communities.

This policy notwithstanding, in March 2012 in its report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, a gathering of international donor states and agencies, including the UN and IMF, the government of Israel claimed that Israel values the international community’s support for the development of Area C: Such projects, stated this report, “mainly those involving roads, environmental conservation, water, infrastructure and agriculture contribute to the welfare of the community and (protect) the environment.” The report also claimed that the Civil Administration approved most of the donor countries’ infrastructure projects in Area C. The same document claimed that between sixty to seventy thousand Palestinians live in Area C – whereas estimates by the UN and by Israeli NGOs fix the Palestinian population of Area C at 150,000.

Israel, as the occupying power, has an obligation to act for the benefit and welfare of the residents of the occupied territories, including their right to a decent standard of living. The intent to demolish basic infrastructure utterly contradicts this obligation.