The window of opportunity for a two- state solution, to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, is closing rapidly as Israeli settlement expansion and expropriation of Palestinian land and resources in the occupied West Bank accelerates at an un- precedented rate, with Israel setting aside more than 60% of the Territory for the several hundred illegal Israeli settlements and outposts that will be home to more than 500,000 Israeli settlers. The West Bank is divided into areas A under nominal Palestinian control, Area B under joint Israeli and Palestinian control and Area C, comprising 62% of the West Bank, set aside exclusively for the settlers.
In order to expropriate all of Area C the Israeli authorities have been carrying out ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the destruction of their property and forced removals. This land struggle has led to increasing clashes between Palestinians, and armed settlers backed by Israeli soldiers, with large numbers of Palestinians injured and killed on the rise.
Israeli forces destroyed over 1,000 olive trees in the south Hebron hills in the southern West Bank recently. The soldiers accompanied officials from Israel’s civil administration as demolition crews uprooted the trees in the village of Susiya.
According to Israeli rights group B’Tselem, there are 26 outstanding Israeli demolition orders in the village. In February 2012, right-wing settler advocacy group Regavim petitioned Israel’s supreme court on behalf of an Israeli settlement overshadowing the village, calling for Israeli authorities to implement the demolition orders.
Meanwhile, settlers from Karmi Tzur settlement near Hebron uprooted another 30 olive trees east of Halhul. In Al Malih and Al Madareb, in the Jordan Valley, Is- raeli forces demolished 15 animal shelters belonging to Bedouins in the area.
Another 500 trees belonging to villager Jamal Kanaan were uprooted by the Israeli military, making a total of six times since 2002 that his olive trees have been destroyed by the Israeli authorities. Around 50 soldiers arrived in the early morning and uprooted the young trees by hand, removing them in jeeps before Jamal could intervene.
The olives had been planted just one year ago, following the Israeli army bulldozing his previous orchard. Each of the five previous times that Jamal’s trees have been destroyed he has replanted them; even though they are uprooted before they grow big enough to produce olives.
However, the farmer remained defiant saying, “I will not leave my land. My land is like my ID card, my identity. I will continue to plant my trees on my land. Whatever the occupation does, I will not leave.”
In Hizma, north of Jerusalem, Israeli forces demolished shelters belonging to Nayef Al Ashab. Al Ashab said he used the shelters to store produce for his shop and that he was not warned of the pending demolition. The goods were all destroyed in the demolition, he said.
The Israeli authorities also informed around 100 families of Wadi Al Malih, in the Jordan Valley, that they had several days to evacuate their shacks and move somewhere else. Aref Daraghme, head of al Maleh local council, said that Israeli forces warned residents to evacuate their shacks and tents temporarily so that Israeli soldiers could engage in military training, after which they will have to leave permanently.
Meanwhile, in April settler attacks against Palestinians and the vandalisation of their property continued unabated with Israeli security forces present failing to intervene until Palestinians began retaliating, after which Palestinians were beaten up, shot at and arrested.
Dozens of settlers from the settlement of Ofra raided the village of Deir Jarir, near Ramallah, in the central West Bank, before setting fire to 10 cars. The Israeli authorities plan to expropriate land from the village to annex Ofra.
Earlier in April, a group of Israeli settlers assaulted an elderly resident of the nearby village of Silwad as he tried to tend to his agricultural fields. He was subsequently hospitalised. In response, residents set fire to the mobile homes of settlers in a nearby outpost.
The settler violence has included the desecration of a number of mosques, the deliberate running over of Palestinian children, shooting and injuring, and in some cases the killing of Palestinians who the settlers believed had thrown stones at their cars. The settlers are also pushing the Israeli government to make it legal for settlers to open fire on stone throwers.
These acts of intimidation are carried out as part of the settlers’ “Price Tag” which follows Israeli security forces removing settlers from outposts which the Israeli government considers illegal. The land theft and violence has met with increased retaliatory violence from Palestinians with settler cars being stoned on Israeli-only highways in the West Bank, sometimes with serious consequences.
In another development in Israel’s efforts to free Area C of Palestinians, a quiet diplomatic war is being waged by several European governments against the Israeli authorities, specifically the Israeli Civil Administration which controls the Israeli occupied West Bank.
At stake is the destruction of a humanitarian project funded by a number of European governments, international organisations and foundations, worth approximately half a million Euros and years of voluntary manpower hours put in by Israelis and Palestinians. Should the destruction go ahead more than a thousand Palestinians will be without electricity, and their livelihood would be decimated.
Community Energy Technology in the Middle East (Comet) has been providing free hybrid solar and wind renewable energy services to off-grid Palestinian communities in the southern West Bank since 2006.
The joint Palestinian-Israeli organisation was founded by two Israeli physicists, Elad Orian and Noam Dotan, who wanted to do something to counter the destructive nature of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian West Bank. To date Comet has built 22 electricity installations in 22 communities, providing electricity to more than 1,500 Palestinian farmers, shepherds and their families who live in the arid southern West Bank eking out a living with non-mechanised agriculture and herding.
“Palestinian communities are deliberately disconnected from road, electricity, water and sewerage infrastructure by the Israeli authorities who want to keep Area C exclusively for Israeli settlements,” Comet’s organisational development manager Aya Shoshan told The Middle East.
Comet’s project has been funded to the tune of approximately half a million euros donated by a number of European governments, specifically Germany, and by international organisations and foundations. The build- ing of the electricity installations has taken three to four years of work, much of it voluntary labour by Israeli and Palestinian volunteers.
“About a year ago we started receiving demolition orders from the Israeli Civil Administration. Currently 10 electricity installations are under threat of destruction. This would cut more than a thousand Palestinians off from electricity,” said Shoshan.
“Israel as the occupying power is responsible for the welfare of Palestinians living under occupation under international law. Not only is Israel not fulfilling this responsibility but it has threatened to destroy a humanitarian project, funded by international donors, seeking to alleviate the hardships of these Palestinian communities.”
In response to the threats by the Israeli Civil Administration, Comet has embarked on a diplomatic outreach to save their project. This has included visits from diplomatic missions and delegations and appeals to high-level European officials and parliamentary members. Comet has also undertaken legal action as well as getting the international media involved.
“The German government, a significant donor, has put pressure on the Israeli authorities not to proceed with the demolitions as have several other European donors, and we are sure this is why there has been a temporary halt to carrying out the destruction of the electricity installations. But the threat is still there,” says Shoshan.
The morning that TME visited the Gawa’is village in Masafer Yatta, officials from the Israeli Civil Administration arrived shortly after a warning that a demolition was about to be carried out. The presence of an Israeli film crew was possibly persuasive in the “stay of execution”.
Comet’s electricity installations have improved the lives of the Palestinians and their families immeasurably, and boosted the local economy by about 70%.
“Instead of having to sell their perishable produce, including cheese and butter, immediately by making individual trips to nearby towns, they can now refrigerate their produce, making a single trip and selling it in bulk,” says Shoshan.
Butter and cheese production has also increased by 15% due to the introduction of an electric churn. Previously it took two women working together several hours to produce butter and cheese by hand. The use of cold water has further improved the efficiency of separation, with the farmers able to charge 50% more for the end product than before.
The lives of women have changed for the better as they are the ones responsible for the dairy production. Clothes are now washed with washing machines. With their menfolk out in the field during the day they now have more free time to watch TV or listen to the radio. Children can do homework at night by light instead of by candlelight.
“For the first time in my life I feel like a human being,” says Ali Awad from Tuba village. “Can these minimal infrastructures constitute a threat of any sort to Israel?”
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