Israeli physicists supply solar and wind power to Palestinian herders

SUSYA, occupied West Bank (IPS) - Hundreds of impoverished Palestinian herders and farmers living in caves and tents in a remote area of the Palestinian West Bank have been provided free electricity due to the ingenuity of two Israeli physicists.

The goat and sheep farming community of Susya, comprising clans of about 25 large families, had until recently followed a centuries-old tradition of subsistence farming without access to electricity.

They have over recent years been the target of a concerted campaign by Israeli authorities to drive them off their land for the benefit of the neighboring Israeli settlement Susya. Their community up in the hills of the southern West Bank have twice been expelled from their original homes and forced to resettle.

Electricity cables run above their homes and nearby pylons supply the Israeli settlement with power, but the Palestinian farmers and their families have been denied access to electricity, running water and other infrastructure.

The villagers have been denied use of the settlers-only bypass road, and prevented from accessing much of their farm and grazing land except for a few days a year in coordination with the Israeli military. This land has been appropriated by the settlers.

But following the intervention of Comet-ME, one of 12 finalists of the BBC’s World Challenge, a global competition aimed at projects showing enterprise and innovation at a grassroots level, Susya made international headlines.

Israeli physicist Elad Orian together with fellow physicist Noam Dotan, both pro-peace activists and founders of Comet-ME, have spent the last two years installing a high-grid wind and solar system free of charge in Susya.

“The core of our activity is the provision of basic energy services for off-grid communities using solar and wind power, in a way that is both environmentally and socially sustainable,” Orian told IPS.

This has meant that while the families continue to follow in the pastoral steps of their ancestors, they now do so with some of the benefits of the latest modern technology. Their tents and caves now have access to lighting, and they have refrigerators, upgraded butter churns, televisions, video recorders and mobile phone battery rechargers.

“These may seem like luxuries but actually some of them are necessities, especially in this remote and isolated area,” said Orian.

“Hitherto the villagers had to travel to the nearby town of Yatta to recharge their mobile phones which are essential in case of a medical emergency, or for work, business or personal communication,” Orian told IPS.

“We have supplied each of the 26 families in the area with a separate solar panel unit which provides around half a kilowatt of energy per hour per day. This is enough to provide their lighting needs for about five hours daily, recharge their cell phones and enable them to watch television for a few hours in the evening to catch up on the news,” Orian explained to IPS.

Jazi Nawaji, 42, took IPS inside her cave to show off its new lighting. “Now there is light at night so the kids can study and do their homework. Previously we relied on diesel generators or gas lamps for lighting which were expensive and polluting. Even a trip to the toilet was difficult and dangerous. Now all we have to do is flick a switch.”

“The high grid wind and solar system, which rates as a one kilowatt turbine, powers the refrigerator and butter churn,” says Orian. “Previously the butter made from the milk of their livestock was produced by hand. This has made a huge difference in the ability of these poor families to generate income. They are now able to refrigerate the butter and produce higher quantities for sale.”

Comet-ME also conducts training sessions, runs workshops and provides scholarships for local apprenticeships. The organization relies on a number of European non-governmental organizations and businesses as well as private donors for funding.

Orian would ultimately like to build similar systems to Susya’s in other communities in the region. “We envision a region-wide cooperative where people can manage, sustain and install systems themselves without being dependent on outside help.”

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