Israeli organization Comet-ME has been providing electricity to over 1,500 Palestinians in rural communities since 2009. But now, Israel is threatening to destroy solar and wind power systems, says co-founder Elad Orian.
Elad Orian is the co-founder of Comet-ME, an Israeli organization which provides electricity to rural Palestinian communities in the West Bank since 2009.
Deutsche Welle: Elad Orian, since 2009, Comet-ME has provided electricity to over 1,500 Palestinians living in tents and caves in the rural West Bank. You work closely with the communities, often staying with them for several days at a time. What kind of a difference does electricity make to their lives?
Elad Orian: Firstly, it provides light. Then it allows people to connect to the outside world through cellular phones and television. In recent months I had the experience of watching television in a cave in South Mountain Hebron with the people who live there. We watched the revolutions in Egypt, for example, unfolding (…) This is amazing.
Then you have electric butter churns and refrigerators, which increase the revenue of the families. Most of all, it is the women who benefit. Manual labour in rural Palestinian communities is very gender specific. Electricity frees the women up to take part in more meaningful activities.
You and your partner Noam Dotan are both Israeli. How are you accepted by the Palestinian communities you work in?
Friendships are struck and long-term relationships are an important part of the project. For me on a personal level, it's one of the main reasons I do what I do. The relations I have with Palestinians go way beyond this basic dichotomy that exists in Israel and Palestine, this separation and segregation between Jews and Palestinians.
Now, however, your project is under threat. Can you explain what has happened?
The area we operate in is called "Area C". As part of the Oslo agreement, the West Bank was divided into A, B and C. Area C is under full Israeli control and makes up 60 percent of the West Bank. For the Palestinians living there, that means that every house, every water connection, every electricity connection needs Israeli permission. And Israeli doesn't give permission.
In the last month and a half the Civil Administration has given "stop work orders" to six of the systems that we've built. A "stop work order" is usually the first step in a process which culminates in demolition.
You have invested a great deal of time and passion into the Comet-ME project. How do you feel now that the Israeli government is moving to close it down?
I'm Israeli myself, and seeing the state of Israel behaving in a way which is so cruel and meaningless (…) is very frustrating. Why would Israel invest so much energy into trying to stop a project which does no harm to anybody? Also, Germany is Israel's second most important ally in the world and this is a project which was largely funded by the German Foreign Ministry. It doesn't make any sense.
What are you saying to the Palestinians who are relying on your organization for electricity?
I'm telling them the truth, of course. To the people who live in South Mountain Hebron, this type of uncertainty and arbitrariness is completely ingrained in how they live. They totally understand the risks. This is something that was discussed and understood before we started the project. Of course, it doesn't make it any easier, but this is a reality they are far more used to than I am.
Interview: Kate Laycock
Editor: Sarah Steffen