Israel set to demolish EU-funded renewables projects

Six EU-funded wind and solar energy projects which provide electricity for 600 West Bank Palestinians have been put on a ‘demolition list’ by Israel, allegedly in response to an EU heads of mission report which called for laws to prevent the financing of settlements.

West Bank project managers say the ‘stop work’ orders served against the projects are "a first step to almost automatic demolition".

Elad Orian, the co-founder of Comet-ME, which oversaw the renewables projects on the ground, said that 400 people would be left completely without electricity if the demolition plan went ahead, but one village would still have access to an expensive, noisy and gas-guzzling diesel generator.

“The people will be left without light or the ability to charge cellphones, which is the only means of communication there,” he said over the phone from the West Bank.

“You will have no refrigerators, which are crucial for the economic sustainability of farming communities, and women will be reburdened with a lot of very gender-specific manual labour.”

In all, the intiative backed by Comet-ME and the German group Medico International has built 15 solar plants and hybrid systems electrifying villages with a combined population of some 1,500 people.  

In one village facing renewable energy demolition, Shaab al-Buttum, two wind turbines and 40 solar panels currently supply 40-60 kilowatt-hours of electricity a day.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle discussed the issue with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Ninister Ehud Barak during a recent visit, a Germany foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

“The German government together with its EU partners is watching the situation in ‘Area C’ very attentively,” the official told EURACTIV.

“The government is concerned about the ‘stop work’ orders for energy systems that have been financed with German funds,” she added.

‘Area C’

Area C is a canton under full Israeli control, comprising some 60% of the West Bank and – beyond the West Bank Wall – all of Israel’s settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

Palestinians need permits to build in this region, but a study by the Israeli group Peace Now found that between 2000 and 2007, 94% of their applications were turned down.

EU sources say that the permitting regime seems aimed at encouraging Palestinian migration to Area’s A and B. “That is what everyone tells you when you go there,” one said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It seems obvious but politically speaking, it is very sensitive.”

The region, spanning the Dead Sea, Judean Desert and Jordan Valley, is under-developed and the German Foreign Office provided around €300,000 for the six hybrid wind and solar energy projects, which serve poor villages in the South Hebron Hills.

The last of the energy projects was completed in September 2011, but in January, Israel’s Civil Liaison Administration, which oversees the occupied territories, announced that they had to stop work as they did not have the correct permits.

Confidential report

Some EU diplomats – and many non-governmental groups – see a link in the timing with a confidential report by the EU’s top regional diplomats into settlement building and house demolitions in Area C. It called on the Commission to draft legislation “to prevent/discourage financial transactions in support of settlement activity.”

Less than two weeks after the report was leaked, notices were served on clean energy projects in Haribat al-Nabi, Shaab al-Butum, Qawawis and Wadi al-Shesh.  

“It is not just the Germans that were slapped in the face but the whole EU,” said Tsafrir Cohen, a spokesman for Medico International, one of the partner organisations behind the project. “That was their answer to the Area C report.”

EU diplomats say that more generally, Israeli settlement activity and house demolitions in Area C are increasing at an unprecedented speed but with the renewables projects, “we are particularly concerned because it is EU-funded infrastructure,” one told EURACTIV.

“We expect that there will be pressure put by the Germans to have this stopped, even if it is only a drop in the ocean of this whole process,” the source said. “Action is necessary.”

Positions

The EU Representative in Jerusalem John Gatt-Ruter sent EURACTIV a statement, saying: “The EU is following closely the developments in Area C which makes up about 60% of the West Bank area. We have expressed several times our regret over the demolitions of houses and structures there. Representatives of the EU and the member states visited many locations in area C and we are in direct contact with the local communities. As an EU, we are calling on Israel to review its policy and planning system in order to allow for the socio-economic development of the Palestinian communities.”

Deborah Casalin, a policy officer for the Christian charity coalition CIDSE said: “In the face of displacement caused by Israeli occupation policies, European aid to Area C of the West Bank is helping Palestinians to remain in their homes and access water, electricity and other basic facilities, which is their right. Demolition of aid projects is against the Geneva Conventions and a direct obstruction of the EU’s aid. The EU must do all it can to stop demolitions, to make sure that its aid has an impact and that international law is respected.”

Background

Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem following the Six Day War in June 1967, and almost immediately began building settlements for Israeli Jews to live on. The settlements are thus considered illegal by the International Court of Justice and the international community.

The settlers argue that Jews had lived on the land in the very distant past and more recently too, following the first waves of Zionist migration in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. So they say that there is a continuity to their actions.

During the Oslo process, the settler population more than tripled and today, it is thought to be roughly 500,000, with around 300,000 settlers living in 121 settlements and about 100 outposts in the West Bank, and 200,000 living in east Jerusalem, according to the Israeli human rights group B'tselem.

These settlements "are connected to one another, and to Israel, by an elaborate network of roads," which along with security zones, checkpoints, and walls effectively control 42% of Palestinian land, B'tselem say, and confine Palestinians to ghettoes.

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