Greenwashing the Occupation The Solar Energy Industry and the Israeli Occupation

In-depth Report | Feb 2017

This report scrutinizes the Israeli solar energy industry by exposing corporate involvement in commercial solar fields and residential solar systems that have been built on occupied Palestinian land, particularly in the Jordan Valley. It also provides a legal analysis of Israel’s violations of international law as an occupying power and the companies’ breaches of business and human rights frameworks. Finally, the report illustrates the intricacies of the captive Palestinian market, highlights the Israeli politics of debts and examines the viability of the Palestinian renewable energy market under occupation.

High-tension cables, electricity poles, infrastructure and power stations are often reduced to mere technical systems, whether strung overhead or buried underground. As such, they become almost invisible to the eye, regarded as having little to no political influence. Yet, despite its subterranean nature, electrical infrastructure plays a pivotal role in shaping the politics and political economy of any society, all the more so in a state of prolonged occupation.

Under the Israeli occupation and Israel’s misappropriation of Palestinian electricity networks, the Palestinian population and economy suffer immensely from a chronic electricity crisis, which directly precludes economic growth and impedes long-term development.

At present, the total energy consumption in the occupied Palestinian territory is the lowest in the region and electricity prices remain the highest. With depleting energy resources and illegal Israeli exploitation of non-renewable natural resources, the Palestinian territory faces a pressing and unanswered need for renewable and sustainable energy.

On an international level, green electricity – particularly the kind generated from solar (PV) energy – is regarded as a promising and emerging technology of clean and sustainable resources, which can alleviate global ecological challenges and supplant limited natural resources, such as oil and gas. [1]

In the oPt, solar energy could relieve some of the obstacles imposed by the occupation. With their plentiful sun and open areas, the West Bank in general and the Jordan Valley in particular are highly conducive for harnessing solar energy, which can reduce Palestinian dependence on Israeli energy imports. However, not only are Palestinians deprived from tapping into the potential of solar energy production in the occupied territory, they are left to witness the Israeli development of solar commercial and residential fields, which expand the settlement enterprise on their own lands. As a result, while an uninterrupted electricity flow is a matter of normalcy in Israeli settlements, it is often an unattainable privilege and a daily struggle in neighboring Palestinian towns.

Israel’s intention to develop solar energy was already voiced in 1956, when the state’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, stated that “the largest and most impressive source of energy in our world and the source of life for every plant and animal, yet a source so little used by mankind today is the sun… Solar energy will continue to flow toward us almost indefinitely.”[2] The same notion was reiterated in a greenwashing[3] statement made in May 2015 by Israel to the global initiative Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll), which had been launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. [4] In that forum, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, called Israel “a hub for renewable energy research and development” and quoted “one of Israel’s sustainable energy pioneers” who called “to realize that the same sun that shines equally on all of us, is owned by none of us, and can supply energy in abundance, inherently promotes peace.” Prosor closed his statement by exclaiming: “May our desire to build a world where sustainable energy is available to all, be a reason for unity and solidarity” (emphasis added; see the entire statement in appendix III). Those idyllic words could not be further from the truth: Greenwashing the Israeli occupation with such statements is designed to conceal and beautify Israel’s illegal acts as an occupying power, and paint it as a protector of both the environment and the people under its control.

As will be detailed in this report, the sun does not shine equally on all under an occupation. Over the last few years, four Israeli commercial solar fields have been constructed in the West Bank: three in the Jordan Valley and one in the South Hebron Hills. All four fields are connected to the Israeli electricity grid and provide green electricity purchased by the Israeli Electric Corporation (IEC). As this report will expose, both Israeli and multinational corporations have been reaping enormous profits from the initiation and operation of commercial and residential projects in the oPt, and in the process boosting the Israeli settlement enterprise and Israel’s economy of occupation as a whole. By providing technological equipment and facilitating the construction, maintenance and operation of those solar fields, private companies strengthen Israel’s hold on Palestinian land and resources.

In addition, the Israeli development of solar energy fields and projects on occupied Palestinian land is undeniably connected to Palestinian economic de-development. The Palestinian electricity sector is a captive market, and it suffers from various hindrances, the most significant of which are the electricity debts allegedly owed by the Palestinian Authority to the IEC.

This report will scrutinize the Israeli solar energy industry by exposing corporate involvement in commercial solar fields and residential solar systems that have been built on occupied Palestinian land, particularly in the Jordan Valley. It will also provide a legal analysis of Israel’s violations of international law as an occupying power and the companies’ breaches of business and human rights frameworks. Finally, the report will illustrate the intricacies of the captive Palestinian market, highlight the Israeli politics of debts and examine the viability of the Palestinian renewable energy market under occupation.

 


[1] International Energy Agency, Technology Roadmap: Solar Photovoltaic Energy (2014), p. 9.

[2] Renee Ghert-Zand, “Counting Down to ‘Ben-Gurion’s Solar Revolution,’” Forward, 31 May 2011.

[3] Greenwashing is a critical term that describes a form of deception employed by an entity or organization, when it deceptively uses green PR or marketing to promote its policies and products as environmentally friendly and ethically benevolent.

[4] Sustainable Energy for All website: http://www.se4all.org.





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