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Why is Israel’s Druze community up in arms over Golan wind turbine project?

Druze protest the construction of a new wind farm in the Druze village of Mas'ada, in the Golan Heights, June 21, 2023. (Photo: Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

It was only a few days ago that Israeli citizens received a text, warning them not to travel to the Golan Heights, due to massive Druze protests over a wind turbine project. Why is that so strange?  

Because, according to several reports, the community willingly entered into a joint venture with Energix Renewable, in order to advance a northern Golan Heights infrastructure project, which promised the creation of lots of jobs, generous financial 20-year endowments to landowners and the improvement of roads and infrastructure in the area.

So how is that, all of a sudden, Druze are furious over the project, to the point where an estimated 2,000 of them took to the streets, resulting in an officer shooting one protester in the leg after a group of masked men, wielding stones, approached him. Other reports indicated that two were seriously injured and five were arrested. Yet an additional report stated that 27 people were hurt with five of them being severely injured and another 17 policemen sustaining light injuries. Either way, one thing is for sure, the Druze community is very upset over this project.

Among the explanations, for why there is opposition to the project, are the following:

  • Energix failed to make an agreement with actual landowners;

  • Environmental organizations oppose the project due to wind turbines being lethal to birds; 

  • A number of energy experts are opposed to reliance on renewable energy sources rather than fossil fuels;

  • The belief that wind energy will not adequately serve Israel’s growing energy demands.

Yet, it seems that there’s more to this story because a list of Druze demands has been sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stating that, if not met, “there will be a clear and decisive response in a way that the state has not seen since its establishment.”

But demands or no demands, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, known for his controversial and bulldozer-style leadership, unapologetically stated that “the construction of wind turbines will pause during the [Muslim] feast of Eid al-Adha, but will continue before and after.”

The crisis between the otherwise loyal and quiet Druze community, which resides in Israel, necessitated the prime minister to speak personally with their spiritual leader, Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif, on Saturday night, in order to “reassure him that he had decided to comply with his request and refrain from resuming work on the Golan Heights wind turbines project until the beginning of July.”

So, what will happen once this holiday ends? Will the $400 million project continue, since a good portion of that money has already been invested? 

The project, which uses the Hebrew acronym of ARAN – standing for “Clean Wind Energy,” was entered into between the Ministry of Defense and ARAN, a subsidiary of Energix, after having received court approval several months ago. However, once work commenced, Druze protests also began, to the point of the present deadlock.

The work, which is being opposed by the community, involves the installation of 21 wind turbines at a cost of $700 million. In order to complete the project, existing landmines, from 1967’s Six-Day War, must, first, be cleared away, and that’s no small feat, given that they cover an estimated 42.5 acres.  

Of course, once finished, the company stands to make a great deal of money. Just in 2022, its net profit was 237 million shekels (over $65 million USD). Considering that Energix already paid Israel 100 million shekels (about $27.5 million USD) for the project, any delay, now, would hurt their interests. 

The location of these turbines would be in the main Druze village of Majdal Shams, located on the Golan Heights near the Syrian border, and some of those Druze residents are also Syrian citizens, who have complained that the project, “threatens their rural way of life, their heritage and their health.”

To them, this is a sign of disrespectful interference and an incursion into their community which totals around 150,000 members, some of whom serve in the IDF. Since many of them earn their living in the fields of agriculture and tourism, they claim “that the wind turbine project will harm their way of life on several levels. The pastoral scenery of the Golan Heights, attracting many Israeli and foreign tourists, will be dotted by dozens of wind turbines, requiring heavy machinery. Some environmental groups also warn against health hazards such as the constant humming of the wind turbines and flashes of reflecting light.”

Yet, the question, which few seem to want to answer, is whether or not these wind turbines will be an effective source of energy. To answer that question, one just needs to do a quick rewind to three weeks ago, June 2, when the temperatures soared to over 100 degrees (40+ degrees Celsius). It was then that 300,000 Israeli homes experienced rolling blackouts as their power was cut off. Those cuts totaled 12,549 megawatts. But the project for these 18 wind turbines doesn’t even come close to that amount. At that time, fifteen turbine sites, with an aggregate output of 600 megawatts, were already planned for construction… “In other words, wind energy will not be Israel’s savior in switching to renewable sources,” according to a Globes article.

If these wind turbines are unable to provide adequate energy to the country, why is the project even being undertaken? 

Just a year ago, then-Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg called for a moratorium on further wind turbines being erected, in order to allow for a proper assessment to take place, both in terms of their effectiveness and also the impact they would have on nature (especially on birds).  

Yet her instructions were ignored and a green light was given by the infrastructure committee, which added another seven new turbines on the Golan Heights. Again, why would a proper assessment, after a certain amount of time, not be reasonable, especially given the fact that “accumulating scientific evidence over recent years has pointed to the harmful effects of wind turbines on other creatures too, among them subterranean mammals, insects and amphibians.”

As the saying goes, “Follow the money.” The wind turbine industry is an ever-growing source of enormous profitability, and while those who manufacture and sell them are fast becoming billionaires, little is being reported on the product’s lack of effectiveness. According to Sky News, “Britons are paying hundreds of millions to turn off wind turbines as their network can’t handle the power they make on the windiest days.”

The article says that “The National Grid paid 215 million pounds to get them shut off last year, a cost that eventually ends up on people’s bills.”

Nonetheless, global elites have put out the word that all countries are supposed to transition to this ineffective source of energy within the next few years. Clearly, individuals and companies are getting rich off of renewable energy, whether or not it’s proven effective. While it’s seen as an attractive investment that yields huge profits, the Druze community may have gotten this one right as they protest what looks to be a very unwelcomed intrusion into their lives – and one which may not even improve the interests of the country in the end.

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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