Golan’s Druze up­set by en­ergy plan

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD -

Golan has re­mained quiet un­der Is­raeli rule. The Golan’s 26,000 Druze, be­long­ing to a se­cre­tive off­shoot of Is­lam, hold Is­raeli res­i­dency sta­tus that gives them the right to travel and work freely. Res­i­dents speak He­brew and the Golan, with its rugged land­scape and many restau­rants, is a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for Is­raeli tourists.

But most of the Druze res­i­dents have cho­sen not to take Is­raeli cit­i­zen­ship, and many still feel in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to Syria. With­out cit­i­zen­ship, they do not vote in na­tional elec­tions and there­fore have no elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Is­rael’s par­lia­ment.

While lo­cal elec­tions were held for the first time last year fol­low­ing decades of state-ap­pointed lo­cal gov­ern­ment in the area’s four Druze vil­lages, the vote suf­fered from low turnout by dis­en­chanted res­i­dents who saw it as an­other at­tempt to ce­ment Is­rael’s hold on the ter­ri­tory. Many view the newly elected coun­cils as not rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

“No one takes them into ac­count in de­ci­sion-mak­ing, and no one de­fends their rights in Is­raeli pol­i­tics,” said Oded Feller, a lawyer with the As­so­ci­a­tion for Civil Rights in Is­rael, which is chal­leng­ing the wind project along­side the Druze. “That means it’s pos­si­ble to quickly ad­vance a project that harms their rights with­out them hav­ing re­course to the proper de­fense.”

The re­new­able en­ergy project, which still needs fi­nal ap­proval from the gov­ern­ment and could take many months be­fore break­ing ground, would see up to 31 wind tur­bines, each at a height of 660 feet, erected around the apple, cherry and al­mond or­chards that em­boss the rolling green hills sur­round­ing the Druze vil­lages.

Dur­ing the apple har­vest last month, farm­ers fer­ried mounds of crisp red fruit on clang­ing trac­tors on the nar­row, wind­ing roads that snake be­tween the ter­raced agri­cul­tural plots and the area’s ta­pes­try of or­chards.

Is­rael has made it a goal to veer its en­ergy pro­duc­tion in­creas­ingly to­ward clean means, with wind power an im­por­tant com­po­nent of those plans. In a state­ment, Is­rael’s En­ergy Min­istry said the Golan Heights, with its high al­ti­tude and windswept val­leys, is an op­ti­mal lo­ca­tion for wind farms.

But the Druze say the tur­bines present a slew of con­cerns.

They con­tend that the gi­ant, soar­ing poles and the in­fra­struc­ture needed to con­struct them will im­pede their abil­ity to work their plots, ex­ac­er­bat­ing their al­ready ten­u­ous eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion, which has grown dire since the war in Syria halted their ex­ports to a key mar­ket. They also say the tur­bines will dis­turb the al­most sa­cred bond they feel to their land, passed down by gen­er­a­tion and where fam­i­lies flee their cramped vil­lages for fresh air and green space.

Landown­ers who signed lease agree­ments with En­ergix, the com­pany be­hind the project, say they weren’t made aware of the po­ten­tial im­pli­ca­tions of hav­ing a tur­bine on their plot. They say they were tempted by hefty sums into sign­ing what they de­scribe as dra­co­nian leases that, cou­pled with a boy­cott on the com­pany im­posed by in­flu­en­tial re­li­gious lead­ers, has prompted many to want to with­draw.

Emil Ma­soud’s un­cle, No­raldeen Ma­soud, is one of them.

As he picked ap­ples in what may even­tu­ally be the shadow of a spin­ning tur­bine, he said he felt mis­led by the com­pany and skep­ti­cal of the state’s mo­tives.

“Our land is as valu­able as our lives. If our land goes, our lives go,” he said. “How can it be that the state of Is­rael is willing to carry out a project like this when most of the pop­u­la­tion op­poses it?”

For some, the tur­bines will serve as both a sym­bol of, and a foothold for, Is­rael’s oc­cu­pa­tion of the Golan Heights.

“Like set­tle­ments in the West Bank, these are facts on the ground. As facts on the ground in­crease it makes any fu­ture deal be­tween Syria and Is­rael prob­lem­atic,” said Nizar Ay­oub, di­rec­tor of the Al-Marsad rights group in the Golan Heights.

En­ergix did not re­spond to re­quests for comment. But in a 2018 re­port on the po­ten­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects of the project, the com­pany said any land harmed while build­ing the tur­bines would be re­stored for agri­cul­tural use.

Ei­tan Par­nass, who heads the Green En­ergy As­so­ci­a­tion of Is­rael, of which En­ergix is a mem­ber, dis­puted the Druze’s con­cerns. He said farm­ers world­wide con­tinue to work their land, even if it hosts a tur­bine and added that the fight against cli­mate change trumps their claims.

“If green, clean and cheap en­ergy can be pro­duced near their homes, they need to take part in this global ef­fort,” he said.


Farmer No­raldeen Ma­soud holds ap­ples har­vested from his farm­land in the Is­raeli-con­trolled Golan Heights.

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