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Israel Can Help Its Poorest Citizens – and the Planet – With Green Energy

Mansour Abbas and Yosef Abramowitz
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Solar panel field in the Negev 2019
Solar panel field in the Negev 2019Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Mansour Abbas and Yosef Abramowitz

Last week Israel and Jordan signed a deal under which Jordan will sell Israel solar-generated electricity and Israel will sell Jordan desalinated water. Why does sun-drenched Israel need this agreement? Because, according to TheMarker, “Israel hasn’t met its renewable energy targets for 2020. ... One of the main reasons is the lack of open areas on which to build solar farms.”

The claim is preposterous. The Negev has many areas that could be used to generate renewable energy and enable Israel to meet its targets. On average, the Negev has just 18 days a year without sun. Open areas, nature reserves and military firing zones, nearly all of them in the Negev, account for about 60 percent of Israel’s land area. That land doesn’t have to be thrown open wholesale to solar power: “Agrivoltaic” fields that can be used to grow crops below and generate electricity from solar panels above are being developed and tested.

“It never occurred to me to boycott Israel. Until Arkansas told me I couldn’t”

About one-third of the Negev’s residents are Bedouin Arab. The time has come for the government to allocate some of this land to them, so they can erect solar panels on it or, better yet, agrivoltaic farms. Doing so would not only bring Israel closer to its alternative-energy targets but enable it to improve its Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development metrics for eradicating poverty and providing equality of opportunity across socioeconomic divides.

Anyone who takes the challenge of climate change seriously knows that the solution must include strengthening disadvantaged communities. What could be more appropriate than giving Israel’s poorest the opportunity to exploit such a global and national resource? Why not let them earn a livelihood from the sun?

At a session of the Knesset Special Committee on Arab Society Affairs for World Environment Day, Yosef Abramowitz proposed setting a green energy “quota.” Arabs account for 20 percent of Israel’s population; to obtain equality, 20 percent of Israel’s solar energy should be generated by this community, especially in the Negev.

We are confident that if Israel can remove the bureaucratic hurdles, the private sector will invest in solar farms. This will create jobs that can support tens of thousands of Arabs living in the Negev. Due to red tape, with the exception of one solar field, all the investment in solar panels in the area has been in Jewish communities.

The Negev’s Arabs use their available land to grow wheat that is dependent on the scant rainfall. According to TheMarker, the Israel Land Authority is against the erection of massive solar farms, but these can bring us closer to our targets – not only for renewable energy, but also for social justice.

We are living with the consequences of the chronic neglect of the Negev’s Arab population. We now have an opportunity to bring about a win-win situation: to create productive employment for the country’s poorest and most disadvantaged citizens while putting open land to a good purpose and enabling us to move closer to our green energy aspirations.

Mansour Abbas is the chair of the United Arab List, which he represents in the Knesset.Yosef Abramowitz is an Israeli-American entrepreneur who develops “green” energy projects.

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