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It’s taken 26 years of fighting for the West Bank village of Rummaneh to be connected to mains electricity. Elders from the community, near the city of Jenin, have been asking the Israeli authorities for mains power since 1982. They were finally connected to the grid in March this year.
The excuse had been that providing electricity would pose some kind of security risk to a nearby military base. For almost three decades villagers have relied on generators – expensive at the best of times but prohibitively costly when oil prices rose sharply over recent years. In this impoverished corner of the economic basket case that is the Palestinian territories, more than two hours of electricity a day was out of reach for the 4,000 people of Rummaneh.
Getting connected took a huge amount of perseverance and only happened because local man Hussam Spehat (above) speaks fluent Hebrew.
“The impact on the local economy and the local people was enormous. The Israeli occupation interferes with every bit of our daily life,” he says. Rummaneh was cut off from neighbouring villages by the Israeli separation barrier in 2000, the first section of which cut through the community’s land. Spehat was one of the founders of the Rummaneh Charitable Association in 2006, set up to help local residents who are suffering as a result of the fence.
As well as providing financial and practical assistance to widows, the families of prisoners and those who have lost relatives as a result of army action, getting connected to the electricity grid was a top priority for the association.
“The army continually refused to give us power – each time it was a different justification but it was always related to security. I’m surprised that connecting a village to mains power could harm the security of a strong state like Israel,” says Spehat.
“They made promises which were continually broken – in 2005 the French government gave Israel money to connect us but it was never done. In 2007 there was a checkpoint moved here and they started talking about a miltary base. All last year they kept saying it would happen next month, next week.
“Then, at the beginning of 2008 I managed to get the phone number of the electricity company in Jerusalem. I started calling them 10 and 20 times a day, until they were sick of us. In March we were connected.”
Water is another issue for this, and many other rural communities. Locals claim that after pressure from the Japanese government, the army agreed to allow 11 villages in the area 250 cubic metres a day from the Jenin aquifer. So far they have yet to see more than 40.
“Again this is blamed on security, as is everything else,” spits Spehat.
Then there is the loss of land. Spehat’s family lost 17 of their 250 dunums to the security barrier and now watch Israeli farmers on the other side tending their crops. He says: “They took all the good land from our villages and left us the mountain land. We are not allowed to build anywhere near the wall so this area is practically worthless.” He pauses and half smiles, wryly.
“The only good thing about this wall is that it separates us from the settlers and now don’t see them. In the past they have killed local olive farmers, uprooted our trees and desecrated our mosques. At least that is not happening in Rummaneh anymore.”