In 2009 Israeli physicists Elad Orian and Noam Dotan (below) set up an Israeli group Community Electricity and Technology Middle East (COMET-ME which became an Israeli-Palestinian NGO). It was initially set up to help people to make their own renewable power, funded in large part by the German foreign ministry.
The Palestinians living in this part of the West Bank are mainly off-grid and either have no electricity at all, or use expensive diesel generators if they can afford them. Area C, which spans two-thirds of the West Bank and is under Israeli control, is home to 300,000 Palestinians. For villages in the mountains of South Hebron — often no more than a few households living in caves in the hillside — Palestinians living in this part of the West Bank are mainly off-grid and either have no access to basic services is a daily struggle. According to Israeli-Palestinian NGO Comet-ME, the Israeli authorities refuse to provide energy to Palestinians as part of a systematic campaign to push them off their lands, into Areas A and B. But these arid, windswept lands are perfectly suited to solar and wind energy
As work proceeded, from 2012 onwards, several disturbing reports came of threats to this work. The following paragraph is typical of such reports.
2013 HEBRON (Ma’an) — Israeli forces on Sunday demanded Palestinians remove 10 solar panels from their rooftops in the Yatta region south of Hebron, a local group said. The team often had to erect turbines at night to avoid confrontation with the Israeli authorities who previously halted installations.
An escalation from state threats in 2014 was widely reported: settlers destroyed solar panels and olive trees in the West Bank on Thursday, local news agencies reported. A group of settlers from the illegal outpost of Mitzpe Yair attacked and smashed solar panels belonging to a Palestinian community in the south Hebron hills, locals told Ma’an news agency.
An off-grid solar system in Sha’eb el Buttom, a village in the South Hebron hills. In the background is an illegal Israeli settlement that Israel has fully connected to the grid.
Positive News and SciDev report that, more recently, persistence appears to have won the day, bringing renewable energy to around 2,000 people in 24 villages in the southern West Bank. In 2015 Comet-Me summarised a few years’ work with people in South Mount Hebron to set up small-scale renewable energy systems based on these technologies. These have improved lives and livelihoods by providing clean energy for refrigeration, cooking, making butter and cheese, and communications.
Hajeh Nuzha pours milk into a new butter churner, powered by renewable energy. Electric churners slash the time it takes women to make butter and cheese — one of the staple livelihoods here.
Many of the villagers in the Mount Hebron hills live in caves such as this one in Tuba. Family incomes have grown by as much as 70% since the electric goods were introduced.
Women also use renewable energy to run laundry machines, such as this one in a home in Sha’eb el Buttom. Electricity has “revolutionised the lives of women”, Orian says, because they tend to do household tasks and take care of butter and cheese production.
As many Palestinians in Mount Hebron had to rely on rainwater harvesting, Comet-ME has built clean water systems for the communities — 70% of whom, the UN reports, are not connected to the water network. In some villages, people use as little as a fifth of the World Health Organisation’s recommended level. Because this often fails to meet their needs, families have paid high prices for extra water brought in by tanker. To reduce this burden, Comet-ME supplies equipment to improve access to clean water. Here the team are installing meters to monitor water use for new water systems.
A pump and priming tank on top of a cistern in which rainwater is stored. Pipes carry water from the cistern to homes, where taps are installed. Before reaching the tanks, the water goes through particle filters to clean it. The new systems mean that children no longer have to carry heavy loads of water to their homes.
In July 16 the Palestine Energy Ministry granted licensing and permits for its first large-scale solar power plant near the city of Hebron, according to the two companies involved in the development. To develop the 5.7MW PV project, US-owned, Holland-based solar power firm Gigawatt Global formed a joint venture with Jordan and Palestine-based energy engineering and technology solutions company Rack Tech. As reported by Saur Energy International, Fadi Bkirat, Rack Tech founder and CEO said, “This project really is very important at this time because of the shortage of electricity in the vicinity. Also it will be a good way for employment for the Palestinian engineers. It will be very good for the country.”
An MRES course is now being offered at Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron. The Master of Science in Renewable Energy & Sustainability is a project of eight universities, three from European countries & five from Mediterranean countries, with financial support from the European Union (EU) under the umbrella of TEMPUS projects. It aims to establish a program that will effectively utilize the renewable energy resources and help to support the sustainability of these sources and local environment.