We held our first training in the Holy Land in Bethlehem, in the Israeli occupied West Bank, hosted by Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust. I had few expectations and lots of questions. I wondered if the Transition model and process holds anything of any use for Palestinians who are locked in a seemingly endless political struggle with Israel. What became apparent by the end of the day was the struggle may be political, but behind the political struggle are resource and environmental issues. We have the same resource and environmental issues in the UK and many places. In some ways their struggle is our struggle. But because of the political struggle, I was left with wondering is can Palestinians can build resilient communities even if they wanted to.
Israel controls 60% of the disputed West Bank land. Area ‘C’, which is in theory Palestinian land, is controlled by Israel, Palestinians cannot build on it or use it without permission, and contains most of the resources, most importantly water. It is in this area that Israel has built settlements that have been declared illegal under international law, and continues to expand them, despite the devastating impacts on Palestinians who live there.
Palestinians are forbidden to extract water from aquifers. They have to buy their water from Israeli companies at 4 x the price that people in Israel pay (even though the water lies under “Palestinian land”).
There are some solar hot water heaters, but virtually no solar pv or wind generation. There is virtually no renewable energy generation in Israel either. For a country which is blessed with continual sunshine, where ‘grid parity’ has long since been attained (meaning solar and wind generation are the cheapest form of electricity generation), and which is facing security issues of which energy must be only one aspect, it makes no sense [to me] to be using anything other than renewable energy. No one yet could give me a satisfactory answer why there was such a lack of renewable energy generation, on either side of the border.
Planning permission is very hard to get even to repair existing buildings let alone build new ones. We had some activists from Hebron attending the trainings, who were attempting to create a ‘Peace Village’, a model permaculture settlement harvesting rain water in partnership with the eco village Tamera. The Israeli army bulldozed it because it was illegal.
Sami Awad has some ideas of how to make Bethlehem more economically sustainable. His centre was once the gate house on Star street which is the oldest street in Bethlehem, and where Joseph and Mary would have passed through on the way to the inn (now a church – of course). Most of the shops are shut. It clearly has tourism potential. REconomy might help.
The question for Sami and the rest of the West Bank is any sort of development possible, and if so will it create or enhance local resilience? Will any sort of economic development be good or should Palestinians be aiming for resilient, low carbon development? Clearly renewable energy and water retention can add value to any sort of economic development, and even on their own create jobs and local resilience.
But will Israel let them? The predicament that Palestinians in the West Bank face is a more extreme form of the predicament that all of us face in building local resilience. We frequently don’t have access to land or resources. We sometimes aren’t allowed to build renewable energy projects. Our high streets and local businesses aren’t restricted by conflict but by a much more insidious power, that of Tesco or Wal-Mart and the rest of the corporate sector attempting to protect their outmoded business models. Power is power whether in the hands of an occupying force or a large corporation. The magnitude and scale of disempowerment might be different on the West Bank to what we face in Totnes, but the situation is strikingly similar, at least in my mind.
We all face a system that is designed not to enhance and support a healthy human presence on the planet but to make a few rich. Palestinians don’t have a monopoly on the experience of powerlessness, on facing severe challenges, and the hopelessness and apathy that can result. I personally will be happy when the first Transition Initiative is launched on the West Bank. I hope that Transition Initiatives in Israel will find common cause with them in creating resilient local communities. It might even be a dynamic of peace across seemingly unbridgeable divides.