To the Hills of South Hebron
It was as we were en-route to another night at Sheikh Jarrah that Ellen, another ISM volunteer, received a phone call. Three of us had just passed through the Qalandiya checkpoint and climbed back aboard the number 18 bus from Ramallah when the call came. We were told that two volunteers were needed to go down to the South Hebron hills for a few days to do some accompaniment work with the local shepherds who had recently faced increasing harassment from settlers and the Israeli army. Mary and I said we’d go.
Following a cold, sleepless night at Sheikh Jarrah, we met our contact, climbed into his 4x4 and left Jerusalem. “We have to pick-up some things in Israel to bring back; technically, it is illegal”, he told us as we headed West. “If we are stopped at a checkpoint, say that I hi-jacked you.” I hoped that he meant “hitch-hike” and that this was not a perverse warning.
We arrived at our first rendezvous; a secluded house where a wind-turbine whirled, overlooking the Israeli valley below. An Israeli man emerged from his workshop and greeted our contact warmly. “We used to steal water-melons together” came the reply as we asked how long these two friends had known each other. The “contraband” we would be driving back were parts for a wind-turbine and solar panels. Dangerous stuff.
We came back into the West Bank, making it through the check-point unhindered, and drove to a small, rural outpost to deliver our trafficked goods. Two families lived in a small, tented community, raising goats and sheep. The story is familiar: despite being in the Palestinian Territories, these people must submit to Israeli rules, which means that they cannot build upon their land. As such, there is no running water, no connection to the electricity grid, and no road to reach their tents.
Not far away stood an Israeli settlement, the power-lines and roads cutting through the hills to reach it. Our 4x4 was forced to struggle up a rocky track to make the delivery. These sources of alternative energy would bring electricity to the people here and improve their standard of living. And this is what makes a wind-turbine, or solar panel, “illegal”.