Category Archives: Renewable Energy

A New Bio-Gas System in Palestinian Susya

in May 2010, the Bio-Gas project was launched to install systems for producing gas from sheep and goat dung for the domestic energy needs of the Palestinian hamlet of Susya (Susiya). This project was the initiative of Yair Teller, together with The Villages Group and Arava Institute. The first sytem was installed in the dwelling compound of the Hajj Ismail Nawaj’ah family, in Susya. Subsequently, two similar systems were installed in the dwelling compounds of another two families of the same clan in Susya. These are small systems of 4 cubic meters, each providing one family’s cooking needs.

In the two years since, Yair Teller continued developing his expertise in bio-gas. He joined three partners – Erez Lantzer, Oshik Efrati and Danny Dunayevsky, who together formed the Ecogas company. Ecogas and the Arava Institute are now pursuing the development of additional bio-gas systems in Palestinian Susya. Currently, together with the villagers, they are working to install a new 16-cubic-meter system in the area of the Hasan Shinran family in the western part of Susya.

The eastern part of Susya is inhabited mostly by families of the Nawaj’ah clan and is in Area C (in which permission for construction has been temporarily left in the hands of the Israeli Occupation authorities according to the Oslo Accords).

Last month, the Occupation regime’s “civil administration” issued demolition orders for most of the dwellings in that part of Susya. The residents, with the help of the Village Group and many other Paletinian, Israeli and international partners, are fighting these unjust orders in court and in the public sphere.

The western part, inhabited mostly by families of the Shinran clan is in Area B (where construction is authorized mostly by the Palestinian Authority). The new bio-gas system is constructed in this part of Susya, and is relatively safe. Unlike its predecessors, this system is meant to supply not only gas for family needs, but also for winter heating of the local schoolhouse – is also under threat of demolition by the “civil administration”, who claims it lies about 150 meters inside Area C.

According to plan, as soon as the bio-gas system itself will be completed, the second phase will begin, whereby two green-houses will be created at this site: one for educational purposes, in the area of the school. The schoolchildren of Susya will cultivate this greehouse under guidance from Arava Institute instructors. Thus they will learn to apply ecological principles in farming. The second green-house will be built in the Hasan Shinran compound, and to grow vegetables for both local consumption and marketing. Crops of both planned green-houses will be fertilized by compost produced from the surplus production processes of the gas system.

In conclusion, to the best of our understanding, when the heart listens, other hearts are heard, and fertile cooperation ensues. Even if the demolishing hand carries out its threats, the hearts will go on beating. Hearts are not to be demolished.

Ehud and Erella, on behalf of The Villages Group

Word and Picture Diary: South Hebron Hills Weekly Visit, April 5 2012

As we do every week, last Thursday April 5 2012 we went to visit several Palestinian localities in the South Hebron Hills, with whom we have been in contact for some years now. Two members of our little group – Hamed and Erella – just got back that day from a Britain tour as representatives of the Villages Group. So this week’s small visitor team consisted of Ehud and Danny.

We began with a short visit to the preschool (nursery school) in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir. This preschool, opened nearly a year ago, is located in an old building with several rooms renovated with the aid of UNRWA, close to the Saraya of Umm al-Kheir (a term that during the Ottoman Empire days designated a government structure). Two local teachers run the preschool with about twenty children, and receive their salary through the Villages Group. The preschool has undergone a significant change lately – one teacher is now in charge of the younger children (two-three year olds) in the room used as the ‘bustan’ (pre-preschool), while her colleague is in charge of the older children (four-six years old), in the other room that serves as ‘rauda’, preschool.

From the hill where the Umm al Kheir preschool is located, the young children can see the present and future prospects arranged for them by the Israeli Occupation regime. Heavy equipment is busy developing and expanding the new neighborhood at the nearby Jewish settlement Karmel (Carmel) – a development doubtlessly paid for by the Israeli and American taxpayer. Together with an additional neighborhood planned to emerge soon, the settlement will eventually surround the dwellings in this part of Umm al Kheir from three directions (north, west and south).

This stranglehold is an integral part of the Occupation’s policy. The “Civil Administration”, that regime’s arm supposedly entrusted with providing services to Palestinians, has issued demolition orders on nearly all structures belonging to the Bedouin families living in this part of Umm Al Kheir – including outhouses, sheds etc. Many of these orders have already been carried out. We have written extensively here, both about Umm Al Kheir’s demolitions and about the vicious, discriminatory and fraudulent nature of the “Civil Administration” itself. Well-known literary translator and humanist Ilana Hammerman wrote a feature article about Umm Al Kheir and Karmel, with interviews of both Bedouin and settlers. The article was published a few months ago in Ha’aretz.

From the relatively new preschool at Umm al Kheir, we drove down the road and dirt track winding into the Judean desert for a short visit to the oldest operating preschool in the area. This preschool opened its doors about six years ago, at the Bedouin locality of Hashem al Daraj.

About 30 children crowd into the rickety one-room structure of this preschool together with their teacher, Huda, a native of Umm al Kheir who lives at Hasham al Daraj. Huda has been devotedly running the preschool since its founding, determined to overcome its harsh physical conditions. We first became acquainted with this preschool over two years ago . Since that first visit we took it upon ourselves to raise funds that would ensure Huda of a regular, decent salary, compared to the irregularly-paid pittance she had earned until then. We also connected Huda and her preschool with volunteers from the MachsomWatch organization. They have been coming to the preschool ever since. Jointly with Huda and the artist Eid from Umm al Kheir, The MachsomWatch volunteers hold an arts and creativity workshop for the preschool children every two weeks. Danny’s gesture in the picture show our reluctance to leave Huda’s place where we were so warmly greeted by the children – as we needed to fit visits to other localities into our tight schedule.

In the picture above, the children of Huda’s preschool look out towards the new and much larger building that UNRWA has been erecting for them nearby. Although it is already in an advanced stage of construction, completion is delayed. It is unlikely that the children and their teacher would move in before the end of the summer vacation, when the next school year opens. Much of the credit for the recent progress in constructing pre-school facilities at the region’s Bedouin localities goes to Hamed.

After visiting Huda’s preschool at Hasham Al Daraj, we left the Bedouin part of the South Hebron Hills (the eastern-most part of the region), and headed towards the small cave-dweller hamlet of Tuba. Jewish settlements Maon and Havat Maon had disconnected Tuba years ago from the road to nearby Yatta town. Nowadays access to Tuba is only possible via a much longer roundabout dirt track that leaves the Bedouin area and winds its way over the rocky hills. As we climbed this track in Danny’s jeep, the magnificent sight of the cave-dwelling hamlet area, locally called ‘massafer Yatta’/ ‘massfarat Yatta’ (Yatta’s hinterland) came into view.

After several drought years, the current winter has been relatively wet and the short spring that is about to end has yielded especially beautiful wild-flower expanses and a healthy growth of crops in the small fields scattered along the central track of the cave region. See previous posts describing the general conditions in this region and its hardships.

Tuba is a typical cave-dwellers’ hamlet – in its small population that hardly exceeds a few dozen, the affiliation of its families to larger clans whose life-center is Yatta, the main town of the South Hebron Hills, and in the ongoing, perpetual threat of the Israeli Occupation rule and its agents – soldiers and settlers – over the inhabitants’ lifestyle. Talk of the day in Tuba was the wandering tank that startled the residents out of their night sleep as it lost its way among the wadis of the region, designated by the Occupation authorities as military maneuver zone.

Life in the cave-dwellers area has many typical characteristics. Here we describe two of them: First, the custom of parents and brothers to build toys for the little children by recycling various objects. On our current visit, our camera caught the toy that Ali Awad of Tuba built for his young son, Ism’ail.

Residents of the cave dwelling region, Tuba among them, had lived without electricity or any refrigeration until recently. The local goat-milk cheese is known for its high salinity, a means of preservation for a lengthy period of time without refrigeration. On our visit, we saw blocks of this traditional salty cheese placed to dry near the solar plates installed in Tuba two years ago by the Israeli-Palestinian team of COMET-ME.

COMET-ME is our sister organization. In 2008, renewable-energy experts among Villages Group activists started installing stand-alone solar and wind electricity generators in South Hebron hills communities. A year later, the initiative began to operate independently as COMET-ME, and quickly attained worldwide recognition and support.

Among other benefits, the renewable power units installed by COMET-ME enable residents to increase production and improve the preservation of their dairy products. Unfortunately, the “Civil Administration” has recently threatened to demolish many renewable power installations placed by COMET-ME. About the international struggle now taking place against this travesty, see the organization’s website.

At the end of our Tuba visit, we returned from the caves dwellers area to the Bedouin part and to Umm al Kheir. Unlike the local rural population that has evolved its cave-dwelling lifestyle for centuries, the Bedouins of the region are originally tent-dwellers and do not live in caves. In view of the consistent house demolition policy applied in the part of Umm al Kheir nearest to the Jewish settlement Karmel, a large number of the local residents are forced to continue living in tents. Among others, we visited the tent of the family elder, Hajj Shueib (photographed alongside his youngest daughter Rana and Ehud).

Later we also visited widow Miyaser, whose straw and stones house has been recently demolished by official thugs of our time. Some of you, especially those who support the Villages Group in Durham, Britain, have already had the opportunity to help Miyaser and her seven children by purchasing her embroidery work (in the photograph, Khulud, Miyaser’s daughter, displays her mother’s new embroidery).

Additional pictures from our visit can be viewed by clicking on the thumbnails below.

Premiere of a Film Documenting Relationships between Israelis and the People of Palestinian Susiya

Tuesday, September 28th, brought us great satisfaction. On that day, we and many of our friends in Susiya had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of the film “The Human Turbine” at the Haifa International Film Festival.

Over a period of two years from 2008 to 2010, a film crew headed by director Danny Verete and producer Yehuda Bitton documented the evolving ties between the people of Susiya and the Israelis who visit them regularly activists in the Villages Group and the Comet-ME NGOs. The resulting hour-long film follows the various projects made possible by the cooperation between the locals and the Israelis, projects that include the production of sun- and wind-generated electricity for the Susiya families, plans for aid to local students and for professional training for young women, school transportation for the Susiya children, help and consultation in expanding water wells, and more.

The film was well received and viewers described it as deeply moving. Particularly effective is the film’s close attention to personal aspects of the work being done in Susiya. The filmmakers understood that the success of the projects described above is tied inexorably to the personal relations that have developed over the past several years between local residents and the Israelis.

We were fortunate to be able to invite almost twenty of our Susiya friends to join us for the premiere in Haifa—in spite of a general closure which totally prevented Palestinians from crossing the checkpoints to Israel for 10 days during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. This was made possible by an invitation from the filmmakers and by our friend Buma Inbar, who obtained the special crossing permits. Following a lunch at the Haifa beach, we took in the panoramic view from atop Mount Carmel, and then watched the film together with our family members, the filmmakers, and other friends and guests.

At the final event of the Haifa Film Festival, the film “The Human Turbines” received an award on behalf of the Other Israel Film Festival in New York. As the Jury of this competition stated: “The film provides a rare glimpse in a world where humanity, compassion and cooperation provide hope for a different life in the complicated reality of the Middle East.” The film “The Human Turbine” is expected to be shown soon on Israeli TV’s Channel 8 and in other venues. We will keep you informed regarding opportunities to view the film, and we also hope to be able to send copies of the film, especially to our friends abroad.

Ehud Krinis (on the left in the beach picture, top right)

UPDATE: The film will be screened at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Saturday night October 30, at 7:30 PM. Also, copies are available for purchase; please email cara@ruthfilms.com.

First Biodigester Unit at Work in Susiya

Following the success of the Villages Group’s first environmental initiative – the renewable energy project, which has been now running independently for about a year under the banner Comet-ME – the Villages Group is now launching a second environmental initiative: Biodigester units for shepherd families’ use. These systems turn the family herd’s manure into bio-gas for the family’s cooking needs.

As mentioned in our previous post,  a month ago a team led by Yair Teller installed the first Biodigester unit at the residence of the family of  Ismail Nawageh in Susiya.  After a few weeks’ incubation period the manure in the Biodigester is by now producing enough gas, so yesterday it was connected to the Ismail family kitchen for regular use.

In the meanwhile, we also received the encouraging news, that the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies decided to adopt Yair’s project, and will send its Palestinian, Israeli and International students to help Yair in the installation of more Bidigester units in Susiya and elsewhere in the south Mt. Hebron region.

Strengthening Those Who Belong to the Land: Mahmud from Susya, the Organic Farmer

Mahmud from Susya got up one day from his depression, and built a very basic green house. With simple tools and techniques he succeeded to surprise us with excellent organic vegetables.
The vegetables are an essential addition to the family’s poor diet, based mainly on dairy products from the herd which is their main source of making a living. And while both herding and growing grains is restricted by the settlers/army, green-housing is a brilliant solution for growing food which does not require much land.
One day Mahmud discovered a vegetable disease on the leaves of his tomatoes. We could not help with the disease, but by suggested to finance for him an agricultural course. When he returned from his two months’ course at al-Arroub College north of Hebron, he also built a beehive.
Then, he turned out to be also a guide for Ahmad, from another family in Susiya. He taught him and helped him to build his own green house.
Meanwhile, since this area is a draught area, both by nature and by the Occupation (the regime prevents direct water supply), we supported 4 families in building 4 wells.
Recently we joined the building the first prototype home Bio-Gas system. The system was built by Yair Teller from the Arava Institute with our financial support. This system, the first one of its kind to operate in the Middle East, turns animals’ feces into gas for cooking needs. The previous success of the solar and wind based electricity systems which we, with COMET-ME, first built in Susiya two years ago, has motivated us to build this first prototype in Susiya as well.
All the above are actual examples of our way of supporting – strengthening the strengtheners of each community, both personally and communally.
We offer many aspects of support; even when financial, it is always a result of personal contacts and long standing relationships. In addition to Susya, we also maintain contacts with other communities in the region of south mount Hebron  such as Umm Fakara, Umm al-Kheir, al-Tuwani, Tuba and others.
The financial support for all the initiatives described above (in Susiya), was kindly provided by a family from London. We, members of the Villages Group and Susyans, thank them sincerely.

COMET-ME Alternative-Energy Project is BBC/Newsweek World Challenge Finalist

COMET-ME, our sister project which has developed out of Villages Group activities, has won prestigious global recognition from the BBC/Newsweek World Challenge 2009 competition.

The judges have chosen COMET-ME as one of 12 finalists. The project, which empowers rural and semi-nomadic Palestinian residents (right now, mostly in South Hebron Hills) by helping them set up independent wind+solar electricity generation units, and training them in installation and maintenance, will be featured in an upcoming BBC story.

The Independent has recently devoted an article to the project, apparently in view of their World Challenge recognition. Here is an excerpt:

For the extended Shineran family, dependent for income on the butter they sell, the electric churn and the large energy-efficient refrigerator they now run off the new system, have together raised sales income from £850 per month to £1,450.

We congratulate COMET-ME, its founder Noam Dotan and all the project’s volunteers, for a well-deserved success. We hope that it continues to grow.
Link to COMET-ME Donation Page.

Renewable Energy Project in Susya-Documentary Trailer

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