Palestinian town faces uncertain future with threat to demolish solar panels
IMNEIZIL, West Bank: A freezing wind blows across the south Hebron hills and the people of the tiny village of Imneizil are steeling themselves for winter and the prospect they may have to face it without electricity.
Situated between two Israeli settlements – Susiya and Beit Yattir – Imneizil, like so many Palestinian towns, is off the grid, with no electricity, water or sewerage due to severe restrictions on Palestinian development.
Two years ago, the Energy Research Centre at Al-Najah University in Nablus and SEBA, a Spanish non-government organisation, installed solar panels in the village to replace its petrol generators. The venture received €292,000 ($394,000) in funding from the Spanish government.
The panels, which provide power for the 390 residents, their school and a small medical clinic, are now under a demolition order by the Israeli authorities. ”We are suspended between heaven and earth; the solar panels were a glimmer of hope for us and now they are trying to destroy them,” the village head, Ali Mohammad Ali Hreizat, said.
More than a glimmer of hope, the solar panels and the electricity they generate attracted family members back to the village and allowed the school to run computers and a printer, the clinic to store medicines safely and provide light for night study.
”Before the solar panels, we had no electricity at night – the children could not study, if they wanted to go to the toilet they had to go in the dark, when our animals gave birth we could not see when they needed our care,” said Mihad Moor, a 25-year-old mother of three. ”Now we are able to pump water and have access to television, which helps us stay connected with the world.”
Access to power also means Ms Moor can use an electric churn to prepare labneh – a soft cheese made from yoghurt – that takes half a day to make by hand.
But it is not just the solar panels that may be destroyed. A new classroom and toilet block at the village school are also under threat of demolition.
”They are making things as miserable as possible so people will just pack up and leave,” said Paul Raymond, from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, a non-government organisation that works with vulnerable communities and monitors human rights abuses. ”It is part of a much bigger picture where even basic infrastructure is not allowed to be built in these areas.”
The pace of Israeli-mandated demolitions has increased significantly since January, with at least 387 structures including 140 homes and 79 agricultural structures demolished by August, a report from three United Nations independent experts found. It has resulted in the forced displacement of 755 people and ruined the livelihoods of another 1500.
At least 23 Palestinian schools teaching 2250 children are under pending stopwork or demolition orders. The Israeli authorities have already demolished some medium-voltage power lines in other villages.
And while Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – illegal under international law – continue to expand, Palestinian applications for permits to build basic infrastructure are denied, almost without fail.
”The situation is clearly escalating and resulting in increasing human rights violations,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, said.
”Not only are these families … forcibly evicted from their homes but they are not provided with compensation or relocation, and are even forced to pay for the demolition itself.”
The community of Imneizil – backed by the group Rabbis for Human Rights – has lodged a formal protest against the demolition order on 39 grounds, all of which were rejected without comment by the Israeli authorities. They are now preparing to take action in the Supreme Court.
But there may yet be a reprieve. Following an appeal from the Spanish government, the village has been asked to resubmit plans for the solar panel structure and a freeze has reportedly been placed on the demolition order.
For now, at least, the town’s electricity supply is safe. But the future of its new classroom and the school’s yet-to-be-completed toilet block remain under a cloud.