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17 October 2007
ISRAEL-OPT: "Joyous occasion" as Palestinian villages connect to electricity grid
KHIRBET JABARA, 17 October 2007 (IRIN) - Renewed cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank allowed for what both sides described as a "joyous occasion", when this small town of about 300 Palestinian residents was connected on 16 October to the main power grid.
"This is going to make life here much better," said Farouq Awad, a member of the local council. "I hope we can now have an industrial zone, open factories and create more jobs."
Given the declining Palestinian economy, long-term job creation is desperately needed, Israelis and Palestinians agree.
Khirbet Jabara is located between Israel's barrier and the pre-1967 border known as the Green Line in the Tulkarem District. Palestinians say this severely curtails their freedom of movement, but Israel says it grants permits and allows the residents to travel as they need.
Observers noted that the barrier, along with other restrictions on movement and access in the area, have harmed the small village's economy, leaving them in need of donations to fund the power project.
"We need more freedom of movement here," said Talal Dweikat, the governor of Tulkarem, in his speech before cutting the ribbon to the new control room.
The village had relied on generators running up to four hours a day. It built its own internal power distribution network and with the help of the Belgium government, was able to establish a small control station connected to the Israel Electric Company (IEC) grid.
"We are happy to supply the people here with electricity," said Meyer Barshan from the IEC, who supervised the flipping of the switch, which sent power surging into the village. "We will give them services, like safety inspections, like our other customers."
While walking through the village, IEC representatives pointed out protruding power lines from the old generator system.
"A child can come along and get electrocuted, literally fly back. Slowly, things will get safer," said one technician.
"Everyone will have power," said Said, an excited resident. "Before, people here suffered all the time. They could not refrigerate food, could not keep medicines at home. They had to go every day to the doctor to get their medicines. Now people can keep them at home."
Senior officials from Israel's Civil Administration in the West Bank told IRIN they hope the project in Khirbet Jabara, one of 27 West Bank villages to be connected to electricity this autumn, will have political benefits.
"This is maybe a new beginning, bringing together such high-ranking Palestinians and Israelis," said District Commander Grisha Yakabovitz, referring to himself and other military figures, as well as his Palestinian counterparts, like Dweikat.
"We hope that doing good humanitarian work for the Palestinians here will bring about political profits in the short and long terms," he said.
"I can't remember the last time the top brass from both sides sat down like this and had coffee. It's been at least several years," said one military official at a small ceremony after the power was turned on.
As the Israelis and Palestinians prepare for a US-sponsored peace summit later this year, Israel is making gestures to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, including prisoner releases and economic projects.
Officials admit that given the humanitarian need, the village would have eventually received some electricity. However, full connection to the Israeli grid and the positive atmosphere at the ceremony were only possible due to the changing political environment in the West Bank since Abbas appointed a Hamas-free government in June.