Jews and Arabs turn on Mideast solar project for West Bank farmers

SOLAR west bank panels

As an innovator of solar energy, Israel has been involved in a number of pilot projects in its Negev desert regions; in particular, one with Arava Power which resulted in a  solar energy plant being put in place in the Arava region near Kibbutz Ketura.

Areas in the West Bank under control of the Palestinian Authority have had ongoing energy problems making it mostly dependent on Israel for electricity needs. This dependence has resulted in Palestinians embracing the use of solar energy to reduce their dependency on Israel for supplying electricity at much higher costs. There are some innovators also turning to geothermal energy in the West Bank.

Joint infrastructure projects between Israel and the Palestinians have up to now been less successful, however, due to political issues as well as constant strife between Palestinians and Jewish settlers living in areas across the so-called ‘green line’.

There may finally be some light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel, however, with a new solar energy project financed by a joint Jewish, Christian and Muslim NGO, Build Israel Palestine, that is involved in raising money to fund development projects in Palestine, including solar energy.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, a solar energy pilot project has already begun helping farmers and residents of the West Bank town of Auja.

Garden of Auja

Garden of Auja irrigated by treated greywater

The Auja solar project, an initiative of a New York Jewish man, Ben Jablonski, who was formerly with the Jewish National Fund, Israel’s leading land development organization, has already improved the lives of local Palestinians by giving them more affordable electricity. (Visit our trip to Auja)

Auja_playground

Farmers in the area now have a more reliable electricity source, with solar panels providing the power to pump underground water supplies for irrigating crops. Though small in comparison with other solar energy projects elsewhere, and costing around $100,000, the Auja project now provides electricity to around 45 local farmers as well as to Auja’s 5,000 inhabitants.

The project has been lauded by the Palestinian Wastewater Engineers Group, which is a partner in the project. “The valley where the project is located has plenty of sunlight, and this has been put to use” said Monther Hind, a senior Palestinian engineer who is partner to Friends of the Earth Middle East with Gidon Bromberg in Israel.

The project does not mean that Israeli and Palestinian relations are improving, however. Auja’s mayor, Fakhri Injoum, says that joint Israel/Palestinian projects are not really welcomed. Local residents appear to think otherwise, however.

While only a start, it is hoped that more solar projects will follow, and eventually provide Palestinians with a larger portion of their electricity needs. The Auja solar project provides around 25,000 watts of power from its 3,000 sq. feet solar panel array “when the sun is brightest”.

Read more on solar energy issues in Israel and Palestine:

Solar energy brings affordable energy to Palestinian homes
Palestinians embrace solar to reduce dependency on Israel
Despite Solar Innovations, Israel Lags Far Behind Europe and the US in Results

Photo of solar panels from Build Israel Palestine by Uriel Sinai and NY Times

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