After long struggle, village on the grid

Al-Tuwani now glows at night. (Samuel Nichols)


The West Bank village of al-Tuwani, after nine years of actively fighting and lobbying, has been connected to the Palestinian electrical grid. The al-Tuwani Village Council originally petitioned the Israeli District Coordinating Office (DCO), responsible for the coordination of civilian affairs in the occupied territories, for access to electricity in 2001. After facing nearly a decade of non-responses, delays, requests for additional paperwork, confiscations and demolitions, the village of al-Tuwani has successfully obtained electricity.

The State of Israel has categorically denied the Palestinians of the South Hebron Hills where al-Tuwani is located all of the amenities which are automatically granted to Jewish settlements and outposts. The nearby settlement, Maon, and outpost, Havat Maon, have had an array of services since their inception. Havat Maon is home to convicted murderers affiliated with the Kach party, including Yehoshafat Tor, who was involved in a plot to blow up an Arab girls school in Jerusalem in 2002. In an interview with the American Public Broadcasting Service, Tor had this to say about the place of Arabs according to his understanding of the Torah and the Jewish tradition: “We are following our hearts. What we should be doing is all written in the Bible. We just read it in our weekly Torah portion: expel the Arabs. Kick them out!” (“Israel’s Next War,” Frontline, Public Broadcasting Service, 5 April 2005).

Yehoshafat Tor and his kin have access to these amenities while Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills are forced to truck in water, heat water with donated solar panels, burn their trash, dig cesspools, and rely on rainwater to nourish their crops. Remarkably, Israeli policies in Palestinian communities in Area C, including those communities in the South Hebron Hills, appear to have a similar motivation as the aforementioned Zionist settlers — that is, to expel the Arabs.

Intense lobbying efforts by al-Tuwani residents, Israeli activists, international human rights organizations Christian Peacemaker Teams and Operation Dove and others resulted in al-Tuwani being given the permits by the Israeli DCO to be connected to the electrical grid. However, the bottom line is that group of villagers in al-Tuwani didn’t give up their desire to have electricity, nor their desire to have a small piece of their human dignity acknowledged. The al-Tuwani Village Council brought in Israeli and international activists, politicians (Quartet envoy Tony Blair came to hear about the lack of basic services for the South Hebron Hills), Palestinian Authority officials (who eventually provided the supplies to build the electricity infrastructure prior to obtaining the permits from the Israeli DCO), and Palestinian electrical engineers, to help accomplish the mission of bringing electricity to the village.

It’s a story that belongs in the late American historian Howard Zinn’s book, A Power Governments Cannot Suppress. The fact is that the Israeli government folded to a village of 250 Palestinian farmers, shepherds and schoolchildren. Their dedication to the pursuit of equality, to the recognition of their rights as human beings, has brought one small victory. This victory is not small in the sense that it shouldn’t be recognized or celebrated. Rather, it’s a small victory because of the sea of obstacles and injustices that remain for the people of al-Tuwani. Lush, green, developed settlements lie directly adjacent to the seemingly arid and desolate village of al-Tuwani. Settlers remain above the law as they attack Palestinian schoolchildren, farmers and shepherds on a regular basis.

But on 12 August 2010, when electricity came to al-Tuwani, it seemed, at least for a day, that the arc of the universe didn’t bend toward Zionist ethnic cleansing and the preference of Jews over non-Jews, but instead towards justice. Chris Hedges, speaking at a rally for the US boat to Gaza, recently echoed the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice, and that arc is descending with a righteous fury that is thundering down upon the Israeli government” (“The Tears of Gaza Must Be Our Tears,” truthdig.com, 9 August 2010).

Tonight, and inshallah for many nights to come, the electricity will shine in al-Tuwani.

Samuel Nichols is an activist from the US working with Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization that supports Palestinian-led nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. He lives in al-Tuwani, a small village in the South Hebron hills, amongst Palestinians committed to nonviolent resistance to land confiscation and settler violence. He writes on his blog, Do Unto Others, at samuelnichols.blogspot.com.