Ecumenical group highlights Israeli demolitions

December 1, 2011

IMNEIZIL, West Bank

Before electricity came to her village, Nihad Moor, 25, sometimes spent more than half the day doing housework. A set of solar panels installed two years ago in this small South Hebron Hills village made her life a bit easier.

Now she is afraid that if a final demolition order issued in October by the Israeli Civil Administration for the solar installation is carried out, the village will be without electricity again.

This is the kind of situation highlighted by the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which hosted a visit here on Nov. 16. The solar panels had been installed by the Energy Research Center of the Palestinian Al-Najah University, the Spanish government and SEBA, a Spanish non-profit organization that specializes in solar energy.

“Electricity is a basic humanitarian need,” Moor said, standing in front of the solar panels at the edge of the village with her three-year-old son Mohammed. A bitter wind blew along the hard dirt-packed hill as the first rains of the winter threatened to drench the scattered collection of tents and half-built cement block homes with corrugated tin roofs that make up the village. “Solar energy does not create pollution. It is the only way we can get electricity,” she said.

Imneizil is among 21 villages in the South Hebron Hills which are regularly visited by EAPPI, founded by the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC) in 2001 at the request of local churches. EAPPI also has a presence in some 113 other communities throughout the West Bank and monitors 24 other checkpoints.

Israel carries out demolitions, largely in Palestinian villages on the West Bank in area C including East Jerusalem, ostensibly to make sure that planning regulations are followed and that there is no haphazard building.

However, Palestinians say their efforts to obtain building permits are largely unsuccessful as Israel follows what they believe is a undeclared plan to silently make their lives so unbearable that they abandon their small villages.

EAPPI spokesman Paul Adrian Raymond said there seems to have been a recent increase in demolitions. He said there are currently at least 23 schools in the West Bank with pending demolition orders. Rainwater collection devices and rudimentary access roads have also been targets for demolition, he said.

“The (Israeli) Civil Administration is working hard to implement the demolition orders ... to create a kind of condition where people will find it difficult to stay where they are,” he said.

According to U.N. statistics quoted by EAPPI, in the first half of 2011 Israel demolished 342 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C, leaving 656 people homeless. Some Jewish 300,000 settlers live in the area.

Imneizil, population 390, is off any electricity, water and sewage networks because of Israeli military restrictions on Palestinian development in Area C, which constitutes almost 62 percent of the West Bank and is under Israeli civil and military control.  

The village’s lawyer from Rabbis for Human Rights, Quamar Mishirqi, said she is currently waiting for a final request to be reviewed by Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). It is the last step before an appeal to the Supreme Court which can freeze the demolition order until there can be a court hearing.

Mishirqi is asking that a retroactive building permit be issued for the solar panels, a practice which is sometimes implemented for buildings in Israeli settlements and outposts, but has yet to be used for Palestinian structures, she said.

In a statement to ENInews, COGAT noted the facility was built without the required permits and without any coordination. “Usually there is a delicate and supportive cooperation between COGAT and international organizations, but rule of law is above all,” it said.

“As a result, cease and demolition orders have been issued, and though the organization was given the opportunity to present its positions in front of an appeals committee, the organization’s representatives refused to attend,” COGAT stated.

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