In Israel, Power Lines Are Set to Run Through Arab-Jewish Olive Grove

The army is opposing alternative routes that would pass through training grounds.

Zafrir Rinat
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The olive grove in the Wadi Ara area. A power line will run through it. Credit: Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

A power-line project is worrying Arab and Jewish olive growers near Haifa, who haven’t been able to convince the Israel Defense Forces to let the high-voltage lines run elsewhere.

Landowners in the Wadi Ara area filed a complaint against the project a few weeks ago, but their chances of succeeding are low given that defense officials oppose an alternative route, fearing that the lines would cross into army training grounds.

Four years ago, area farmers contacted the fair-trade group Sindyanna of Galilee, which brings together Jewish and Arab farmers. The group planted an organic olive field on land owned by the Yunis family from the town of Arara.

The initiative, called Oasis, received support from free-trade organizations around the world. The Agriculture Ministry, for its part, provided financial assistance during the project’s early stages.

“This isn’t just an olive grove, it’s a comprehensive project of Jewish-Arab cooperation,” said Motia Yunis, who heads a landowner association from Arara that’s taking part in the project.

The trees were planted in Wadi Arara’s Roha area, which is owned by Arab farmers but has been used by the IDF for years. Around 15 years ago, a committee including government officials was set up to transfer the land back to the Arab owners.

Sindyanna officials took on the arduous task of removing all the stones from the area, which had been left unplanted for years. This year, the farmers hope to harvest their first crop of olives on the roughly 100 dunams (25 acres) and make olive oil.

The farmers are considering marketing the organic oil abroad as well as in Israel. They say they were notified of the power-line project too late to file a complaint on time, though they were granted additional time.

“The power lines will harm our olive grove because they will be put up directly on the same land,” says Yunis. “And there’s a safety problem because the power lines emit radiation.”

The farmers and Sindyanna of Galilee say the Israel Electric Corporation agreed to consider alternative routes for the lines, but the defense establishment got in the way. Yunis says nonorganic olive groves have gone up in the area as well, following the example set by the organic growers.

The special committee as well has asked defense officials to consider an alternative route for the power lines. According to the IEC, the project for the 400-kilowatt, 80-kilometer lines began in 2002.

“It was decided that the power lines should be far removed from the biospheres near Ramat Menashe, which were then in the initial stages, and that the lines should be far removed from the residential areas of Wadi Ara,” the IEC said.

“There is no safety or environmental concern that should prevent power lines from running above an organic olive grove. In many places throughout Israel, power lines such as these pass over agricultural areas. The columns for the power lines will be built in coordination with the farmers ... to prevent the uprooting of any olive trees.”

According to the Defense Ministry, “The alternative power lines would run into IDF training areas and therefore present a safety concern. They would also harm the IDF’s ability to train properly in the area. The defense establishment will reconsider any alternative presented by the IEC.”