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West Bank solar panels risk demolition
by Staff Writers
Imneizil, Palestinian Territories (AFP) Nov 16, 2011

A Palestinian woman and her child walk next to a solar panel. Photo courtesy AFP.

Clouds of uncertainty hung over this tiny Palestinian village on Wednesday, as locals waited to see if the Israeli army would call off its demolition of the community's solar panels.

It was two years ago that Spanish NGO SEBA joined forces with Nablus's Al-Najah University and installed two solar panels in the community, at the southernmost tip of the West Bank, replacing the gasoline generators that the village had been using as its only source of power.

Since then, the 34 families living in Imneizil have sped into the 21st century, stocking their homes with appliances and rigging up light bulbs inside their tents and small makeshift homes.

The panels also provide power for the local water pump, as the village is not connected to a water pipeline.

But last month, the army, which controls civilian affairs in Area C where the village is located, issued a demolition order for the panels and a nearby control structure, saying they were built without a permit.

Israeli NGOs and the UN's Habitat agency have urged the army to freeze the order, which they say came as a surprise to the village.

The Spanish government is also working through diplomatic channels to prevent the closure of the 365,000-euro ($495,000) project, most of which was funded by SEBA.

"We are suspended between heaven and earth; the solar panels were a glimmer of hope for us," said village head Ali Mohammad Ihrizat.

"We have been here since 1948, and have nowhere else to go."

According to Ihrizat, they saw no point in asking the army for permission to erect the panels as Israel does not recognise the village, and none of its structures have ever received a construction permit.

A Spaniard running the project for SEBA told AFP they had requested a permit after setting up the panels, but had never received a response from the military department responsible for granting them.

He said Madrid was making diplomatic efforts to enable the energy project to continue.

A narrow trail leads from one of the large panels to Nihad Mur's tent, where she lives with her husband and three young children.

Standing protectively next to her television, computer and refrigerator, Mur says she cannot understand why the army would insist on taking down the panels "which are highly ecological, on our land, and do not disturb anybody."

But "law enforcement stands above all," according to COGAT, the Israeli military body in charge of civilian aspects of life in the West Bank, although it says it is also "supportive" of work undertaken by international organisations.

"This is a facility that was built without permits or coordination, following which we issued a work-halt order and a demolition order, while enabling the organisation to present its stance to an appeals committee, but the organisation's members refused to appear before it," said COGAT in a statement.

However, following a Spanish appeal, COGAT head Eitan Dangot had decided "to freeze the demolition process" and had requested that SEBA submit plans containing details of the solar panel infrastructure.

"The organisation has yet to present the plans," the COGAT statement said.

A spokesman for the military on Wednesday said they were hoping to retroactively legalise the structures.

"Our aim is to approve the facility, but it has to be done by law," he told AFP.

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Tortona, Italy (SPX) Nov 15, 2011
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