Opinion |

The Dutch Gamble

The Dutch, giving money for solar panels in Palestinian villages, decided to take a risk on the assumption that their country has a gentleman’s agreement with Israel

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Palestinian solar panels confiscated by Israel in West Bank village of Jubbet Adh-Dhib, June 2017
Palestinian solar panels confiscated by Israel in West Bank village of Jubbet Adh-Dhib, June 2017.Credit: Comet-ME
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The Dutch officials who signed off on a contribution of half a million euros ($590,000) for the Israeli-Palestinian organization Comet-ME for an ecological electricity project in Palestinian villages (in the West Bank’s Area C) knew that the project was being carried out without a permit from the Israeli occupation authorities.

They decided to take a risk on the assumption that their country has a gentleman’s agreement with Israel: We, the Dutch, won’t bug you about your methodical breaches of international law and the settlements; we might wag our finger but we’ll continue our excellent economic, cultural, scientific and social ties with you. In exchange for our unending patience, you’ll close your eyes in a friendly way and allow us to finance a humanitarian project.

Most of the Dutch contribution, 350,000 euros, was invested in the village of Jubbet Adh-Dhib, east of Bethlehem. The village has been asking to be connected to the electricity grid since 1988. The Civil Administration refused. Since November 2016, when Comet-ME completed installation of a micro-grid, the village – with its 31 homes and 160 residents, a kindergarten, a mosque, five small businesses and a mobile clinic that arrives once a week – has enjoyed electricity.

For eight months, the Dutch officials could conclude that their gamble had paid off. Reports from the village were encouraging: Health and hygiene improved thanks to refrigeration to store food and medicines, a sense of security and safety was provided by night lighting, people could be more active during the day, especially children doing their homework; their school achievements improved thanks to computers that worked, women could work less hard thanks to electrical appliances.

Instead of noisy, polluting, costly generators that the people of Jubbet Adh-Dhib had been operating until then, which only provided electricity for three hours out of 24, an environmentally- and user-friendly solution had been found.

Nobody could be against this, the Dutch thought. But it turned out that somebody was. The heroes of the Civil Administration, the obedient executors of Israeli policy, could not abide electricity in a Palestinian kindergarten. They raided the village last Wednesday and confiscated the solar panels and other equipment and damaged the apparatus. In just an hour, they destroyed equipment that had taken five months to install, made the refrigerators and the computers superfluous, darkened the village and brought back the despair and the polluting generators. And all around them, the lights of settlements and outposts twinkled.

What allows Israel to spit on the money of Dutch taxpayers and thumb its nose at the good intentions of one of the governments friendliest to Israel? Here are a few theories: Because of that same Dutch and European patience with Israel and the way it ignores basic principles of fairness; because Israel thinks Europe is preoccupied with its own problems and won’t take any real steps against it; because Israel has already destroyed humanitarian equipment funded by European countries and, other than protests and declarations, nothing happened; because Israel is a Jewish-democratic country.

The great majority of Israel’s Jewish citizens do not oppose the destruction of a source of energy to a Palestinian village, or see it as a disaster or injustice. This lack of opposition encourages more of the same. Israelis also think foreign countries should not interfere in our business; after all, it’s clearly our private affair whether Jubbet Adh-Dhib has electricity or not.

Why is it our business? Quite a few young people have left the village and moved to Area A or Area B because they couldn’t stand the conditions, without building permits and without electricity. If everyone leaves, there will be more land available for us, the Jewish citizens of the Jewish democratic country. That’s simple arithmetic and typical Israeli long-term thinking.

Let’s hope that this time, the Dutch protest won’t stop at words.

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