A Clean Energy Scheme to Entrench a Dirty Occupation
An Israeli renewable energy company is suing a human rights group over its investigation of a wind farm the firm plans to build in the occupied Golan Heights with government backing.
Al-Marsad, the group which Energix is suing, has found that the Tel Aviv-based company’s wind turbine project violates the indigenous Syrian population’s right to self-determination. The scheme also serves to strengthen Israel’s control over the territory.
The group says Energix’s filing against it sets “an extraordinarily dangerous precedent.”
Along with 15 other organizations, the group is urgently requesting that United Nations experts “intervene immediately to protect human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan.”
The Energix lawsuit is the first to be brought forward by an Israeli firm under Israel’s anti-boycott law to suppress the activity of a human rights group.
That law, enacted in 2011, imposes sanctions on groups advocating boycotts of Israel or its settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.
Energix also alleges that Al-Marsad has engaged in “slander” by describing how its energy project violates international law in a report published in January.
The Golan Heights is Syrian territory captured by Israel during the 1967 war. Approximately 340 Syrian villages and farms in the Golan Heights were destroyed by Israel, which built Jewish settlements in their place.
Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights violate international law, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its civilian population to the territory it occupies.
Some 26,000 Israeli settlers enjoy control over 95 percent of the Golan – a landmass of 1,860 square kilometers representing 1 percent of Syria’s total territory. Approximately the same number of Syrians have control over the rest of the Golan’s land.
After Israel claimed to annex the Golan Heights in 1981, the UN Security Council declared the move “null and void and without international legal effect.”
Energix seeks to build “an enormous energy project that would occupy almost a quarter of the agricultural land” that is still controlled by Syrians in the Golan, according to Al-Marsad.
The project would severely restrict the expansion of Syrian communities. Nearby Israeli settlements have rejected smaller wind farm projects.
“By executing the project on native Syrian lands but seeking approval and validity through Israel’s regulatory scheme, Energix is supporting the human rights violations embedded in Israel’s illegal and discriminatory occupation of the Golan,” Al-Marsad states.
The group’s investigation “uncovered that the Syrians of the Golan are being lied to, manipulated and purposefully divided over the project by both the company advancing it and the Israeli government.”
One-fifth of the Syrian population in the Golan Heights has signed a petition opposing the Energix project.
The turbines, which emit low-frequency sound waves and flickering, pose a health risk to nearby Syrian communities, particularly to people with epilepsy.
But “most concerning … is the risk Energix’s project poses to Syrians’ cultural life in the Golan,” according to a paper by Al-Marsad and Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group.
“Indigenous Syrians are deeply attached to their ancestral land,” the groups add. “This attachment is strong despite Israel’s repeated attempts to dispossess Syrians of their small plots.”
Decades of occupation and discriminatory Israeli practices have “destroyed native Syrians’ economic prosperity, especially in the agriculture sector,” according to Al-Marsad’s report from January.
Economic suffocation has made “the proposition of earning quick cash far more tempting” to Syrians in the Golan than in nearby Israeli settlements that have rejected similar schemes.
The project will involve building and widening roads, clearing land, installing “52 structures [with] the equivalent height of 64-story buildings,” and a new underground electric line stretching 30 kilometers.
“All this will permanently disfigure the Golan and reshape its entire existence,” Al-Marsad states.
Israel has prevented occupied villages in the Golan from creating an independent energy utility system, forcing them to be permanently dependent on Israel for energy.
A local plan to develop a wind farm was stalled by the Israeli military in 2014, “around the same time Energix began aggressively progressing” its project, according to Al-Marsad.
The Energix project, meanwhile, has been fast-tracked by Israeli regulatory bodies.
“Israel has prioritized developing natural resource-based industries” in the territories it occupies “because such industries are physically embedded in the land,” Al-Marsad states.
Israel has accelerated gas and oil exploration in the Golan since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Israel prohibits Syrians from utilizing these same resources.
The energy produced by the Energix wind farm in the Golan Heights will be sold directly to the Israeli Electric Corporation and bring in an estimated yearly revenue of $38-44 million.
Energix “will only pay out about 1 percent of its profits to Syrian landowners,” according to Al-Marsad’s investigation.
“Similar plans in Israel or Israeli settlements are said to have proposed to pay out as much as five times more,” the group adds.
Energix’s project in occupied Syrian villages exploits “economic and legal instability that stems from occupation-based policies that discriminate against their ethnic background and national origin.”
Israel will soon be exporting electricity to Europe through the EuroAsia Interconnector project, due to be launched over the next decade. The project will directly connect Europe to Israel’s illegal settlements built on occupied land, implicating it in war crimes.
“This energy infrastructure integration further entrenches Israel’s occupation and colonization,” according to the paper by Al-Marsad and Al-Haq.
Maureen Clare Murphy is the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago.