Inequity Under A Scorching Sun: Permitting Electricity in the West Bank (day six)
by Rachel Cohen, Johns Hopkins University, ’14
Today, our group traveled to a small agricultural Palestinian village in the South Hebron Hills in Area C of the West Bank. Area C makes up approximately 61% of the West Bank, and contains less than 5% of the total West Bank Palestinian population. According to the terms laid out by the Oslo Agreement, the Israeli government is responsible for providing both the civil and security services to Area C.
On this trip we met with Elad Orian, a co-founder of COMET-ME. This organization, which stands for Community, Energy and Technology in the Middle East, provides basic energy services to Palestinian communities that are left off of Israel’s electrical grid and thus do not have access to power (despite being in an area in which Israel is required to provide basic services). COMET-ME provides renewable solar and wind energy for basic needs like lighting homes, refrigerating food, running butter churns, and charging phones.
What was particularly poignant about this experience was having the opportunity to see, some four hundred feet away, two unauthorized Israeli outposts that have been recently erected in the South Hebron Hills. We observed the outposts’ electrical system and learned that those Israeli settlers in illegal outposts have full access to water and electricity, unlike their Palestinian neighbors in legal communities.
The unfairness was chilling. It is not just that Israel is failing to provide the services that they’re legally required to provide to these impoverished Palestinian residents. But it’s also that Israel is providing these essential energy services to Israelis that are breaking Israeli (and international) law just meters away. Sometimes, when people like me point out human rights issues or examples of injustice in the Palestinian Territories, we become instantly disparaged as naïve, or ignorant about fundamental matters of “national security.” But standing in the South Hebron Hills today, looking at this glaring inequality, all arguments of “security” disappeared. Denying impoverished Palestinians, many living in caves, of very basic services, has absolutely nothing to do with security. It has to do with the clear statement that some residents will receive basic rights and services over others.
But there is something more pressing about this situation. The state-of-the-art renewable energy systems installed by COMET-ME, along with five other wind and solar energy projects that COMET-ME has built for Palestinian communities that are left off the electrical grid, could actually disappear tomorrow. That is because the IDF Civil Administration has filed demolition orders for all of them; the structures were built without building permits. However, it is incredibly unlikely that COMET-ME would have gotten permission to build these structures due to a litany of complicated legal restrictions that Palestinians face when applying to build in the West Bank. A study conducted by Peace Now found that between 2000-2007, 94% of Palestinian building permit applications were turned down. The fact that these energy structures might get demolished, while illegal settlement outposts stay standing, makes one really struggle to figure out where the justice is and what the point is.
Many people, when seeing situations like this, use extreme language to describe Israel and the occupation. I reject this language. However, the truth is that the occupation is immoral in its own right. It doesn’t need to be called anything other than what it is: an occupation. An occupation in which Palestinians live under martial law and Israelis live under civil law. The South Hebron Hills provides only one example of the injustice of such a system.
I came on this trip because I care about Israel. This state is so important and I want to see it existing as a strong Jewish democracy for many, many generations to come. But some of the things I’ve learned and felt on this trip have been really painful for me. I’ve come to understand that the occupation that exists today very seriously threatens Israel’s Jewish and democratic future. And it’s especially difficult when I think about members of my own Jewish community who refuse to talk about, or worse, try to make me feel guilty for talking about the situation in the West Bank. It all makes me worried, scared and sad — and all the more committed to working for change.