Activist touts clean energy in West Bank

Sustainable energy may provide a new solution to the social and political problems of the West Bank, Israeli environmentalist and activist Elad Orian said at a talk Monday.

Before an audience of about 30 in Davenport College, Orian spoke about the development of sustainable energy systems for neglected communities in the South Hebron Hills region of the West Bank. These new systems, he said, may make life easier for Palestinians suffering from displacement, poverty and climate change.

“The notion that there is something deeply wrong in Israeli policy has followed me for a long time,” he said. “These Palestinians live in an area that is geographically and politically marginalized. Their essential needs must be addressed.”

An Israeli by birth, Orian — the cofounder of the non-governmental organization Community, Energy and Technology in the Middle East (Comet-ME) — said he refused to serve in occupied territories of the West Bank as a soldier. His current work to bring sustainable energy to the region, he said, stems from a moral conviction that Israel’s settlement activity is interfering with the provision of Palestinians’ basic needs.

Comet-ME, which receives its funding mostly from non-governmental organizations and European governments, tries to alleviate these problems by providing renewable energy to Palestinian refugees, he said. The organization builds and installs hybrid wind and solar mini-grids tailored to the needs of specific families in the South Hebron Hills region of the West Bank, a region affected by desertification and drought.

Consulting with local residents, he added, helps Comet-ME build the capacity to maintain and manage these grids.

“There are no cookie-cutter solutions,” Orian said. “But the general idea is to use systems that are reliable and will not break down. Robustness, reliability and simplicity are key.”

Because the people of the South Hebron Hills sustain themselves by goat- and sheep-herding, the energy created is being used for butter-churning, dairy production and refrigeration, he said. The grids, he said, can increase the income of a household by up to 70 percent.

Four audience members said Comet-ME’s activities are refreshing to hear about, given the hostility between Israeli and Palestinians.

Ben Alter ’11 said it was inspiring to hear someone speak with such compassion about the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories.

Andrew Goldstein ’13 added that Comet-ME’s activities represent a new approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The whole talk was extremely relevant to the current political climate and energy debate,” he said. “Orian’s political will and intellect make him very special.”

The Yale chapter of J Street U, a national organization that believes in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hosted the event.

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