A Light Unto the Nations

The village of Shaab al-Buttum, home to hundreds of people, is in the hills south of Hebron in Palestine.  The community is made up of shepherds, formerly nomadic but forced to settle permanently in the area when the West Bank was occupied by Israel in 1967.  Unfortunately for the villagers, their home is in Area C, which comprises some 60% of the West Bank and is directly administered by Israel, which requires permission for any construction projects, permission that is virtually never given to Palestinians.  The impact of this restriction is evident in the demographics of Area C: 150,000 Palestinians and 310,000 Israeli settlers.

As a consequence Shaab al-Buttum has no roads, no water and no electricity, while two nearby Israeli settlements are well supplied with all the necessities of life.  This disparity exists despite the fact that the Israel settlements are considered “illegal” by Tel Aviv, a distinction baffling to anyone outside the Israeli and American governments, since all the half million Israeli settlers in the West Bank are there illegally according to several international covenants, which in fact the United States had sworn to uphold.

Three years ago two Israeli doctors began a program of installing solar panels and wind turbines to supply electricity to Shaab al-Buttum and other communities in the area, and today some 1500 Palestinians benefit from the project, largely funded by Germany.  Not for long.  Citing the lack of building permits, Israel has declared that all the facilities are illegal and will be destroyed.  And it is probably just a coincidence that this Israeli decision comes in the immediate wake of a recent European Union report (surprisingly) critical of Israel’s settlement program.

Foreign funded projects in the West Bank and Gaza are continually being destroyed by Israel, generally under the rubric of security and military necessity, as in the case of the now obliterated Gaza airport, financed by the EU.  Lack of a building permit has been the traditional and well-used pretext for destroying Palestinian homes, but it is now apparently being employed against foreign investments as well, particularly when even the Israeli military would have trouble imagining a security threat.

Could it be that investment in the infrastructure of Palestine is at odds with the Israeli policy of colonization and that there is a message here for foreign meddlers?  Or is it just another example of the incredible pettiness that characterizes the Israeli occupation?

The plight of Shaab al-Buttum and its neighbors is far from unique or rare.  This sort of petty and destructive behavior is a sad commonplace of the half century occupation.

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