Dutch protest Israeli seizure of Palestinian solar panels they funded in West Bank

Netherlands’ Foreign Ministry requested Israel return equipment it confiscated, valued at over 40,000 euro; Israel failed to hand out demolition orders in advance

The Dutch government has lodged a protest with Israel over the confiscation of equipment donated to the Palestinian village of Jubbet Adh-Dhib’s hybrid power system (diesel and solar powered), according to a written statement of the Dutch foreign ministry, sent to Haaretz by the Netherlands’ office in Ramallah

The Dutch government donated 500 thousand euros to the electrification project south west of Bethlehem in the West Bank, 350 thousand euro of which went to the electrification of Jubbet Adh-Dhib. The Dutch Foreign ministry had requested Israel return the equipment and is “currently assessing what next steps can be taken,” it said.

A source close to Dutch diplomats in the West Bank told Haaretz that these softly worded statements cover the anger brewing in the government of the Netherlands, a close friend of Israel’s, at the damage to the humanitarian project.

On Wednesday morning, officials from the Civil Administration (the Israeli body governing Area C in the West Bank) confiscated 96 solar panels and electronic equipment belonging to Jubbet Adh-Dhib’s electric system. The system was installed by the Israeli-Palestinian organization Comet-ME nine months ago, and was funded by the Dutch.

According to Comet-ME, which builds water and energy systems for Palestinians, the equipment not confiscated in the raid was damaged. The cost of the confiscated and damaged equipment is valued at 40 thousand euros, though the material and social damage is much greater, as their seizure immediately resulted in the loss of power for the 30 families in the village and its public buildings.

Cease work and demolition orders were not served to residents prior to the raid, as is required by planning and construction laws. Orders to cease construction and confiscation orders were given to the residents only during the raid itself. Had orders been given in advance the village and its representatives could have taken administrative or legal action.

Jubbet Adh-Dhib was founded in 1929. It is located in what the Oslo Accords designate as Area C, an under administrative and military Israeli control. Since 1988 the village requested that the Civil Administration connected it to the power grid, but had been denied. In 2009, the Civil Administration confiscated a solar powered public lighting system. Since then the village has received a couple of noisy and polluting generators from aid organizations, which supply power for three hours a day. A number of unauthorized Israeli outposts were founded near the village that enjoy a connection to the power grid and access to other infrastructure.

Comet-ME is an Israeli-Palestinian organization providing basic energy and clean-water services to off-grid communities using environmentally and socially sustainable methods. Comet-Me says its efforts in Jubbet Adh-Dhib are one of the organization’s most ambitious projects. It was implemented with the assistance of the 160-resident town’s women’s committee. The town, whose economy used to be based on farming and animal husbandry, is now largely dependent on the wages of most of the town’s men, who work in Israel. The women of the committee told Comet-ME that they hoped to draw back to the village those who left because of the harsh living conditions created by the lack of electricity and construction permits, and to use the electricity to increase the level of education and learning in their community.

Attorney Michael Sfard, Comet-ME’s legal adviser, told Haaretz that the confiscation constituted “an explicit violation of international law, which forbids occupying powers to damage humanitarian installations without providing alternatives.”
The spokesperson of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories issued a response saying: “(On Wednesday) solar panels and electric panels that were installed without first obtaining the proper permits were confiscated in Jubbet Adh-Dhib. In addition, an order to stop work on an illegal electrical room in the location and panel holders was also given. We stress that the town has other sources of electricity,” they said, likely in reference to the village’s generators.