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Netanyahu pauses Golan wind farm project for Druze holiday

The move follows violent protests by the Druze community over Israel’s largest renewable energy project, which they say encroaches on their lands. 

Israeli Druze spiritual leader Shaykh Mowafaq Tarif and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, June 21, 2023. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO.
Israeli Druze spiritual leader Shaykh Mowafaq Tarif and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, June 21, 2023. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif on Saturday that construction on the Golan Heights wind farm project will be put on hold over the Eid al-Adha holiday.

The decision was made upon the recommendation of Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) director Ronen Bar and Israel Police Inspector General Yaakov Shabtai, according to an official statement.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu directed that efforts be made over the coming days to resolve the planning and housing problems in the Druze communities on Mount Carmel and in the Galilee, which affect the entire Druze community, including young discharged soldiers, who contribute to the security of the state,” the statement said.

The move comes after violent protests last week by members of the Druze community over Israel’s largest renewable energy project, which they say encroaches on their lands. 

Druze protest while police stand guard during a protest against the construction of a wind farm in the Druze village of Mas’ada, in the Golan Heights, June 21, 2023. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90.

Druze leaders sent a letter to Netanyahu on June 22 threatening more demonstrations unless work on the project was frozen for the holiday.

“In the state of affairs that has arisen, the heads of the Druze community see it fit that an immediate freeze of the work and the exit of police forces from the construction site be ordered until the end of Eid al-Adha,” the Druze leaders wrote, referring to the holiday observed by Druze and Muslims that this year runs from June 27 until July 1.

“We expect the government to answer in the affirmative to this request and to allow the members of the community to mark the holiday period calmly and peacefully,” they continued.

The wind turbine project is “only the match that started this fire,” Dr. Omri Eilat, director of the Research Institute at the Druze Heritage Center of Israel in the Galilee village of Yanuh-Jat, told JNS.

The central issue fueling the protests is planning and construction problems in Druze villages, especially an amendment passed in 2017 intended to crack down on illegal building called the Kaminitz Law, he said. The Druze face heavy fines for unregulated construction, which is pervasive in their villages.

“Druze don’t live in cities, only villages, unlike Muslims. They don’t want to move because they are really afraid of intermarriage in the cities. Of losing their identity,” Eilat said.

“When a man cannot build a house then he cannot get married. It is an essential law for Druze society. Then he may have to move to a city,” he continued.

In addition to the residential planning problems and the fear of losing their identity, Eilat emphasized that the Nation-State Law passed in 2018, which defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, generated resentment among the Druze who are very loyal to Israel.

“Druze conceive themselves as a society loyal to Israel—justly serving Israel and taking risks. They are prominent in the police, IDF and especially the infantry,” Eilat said. “They say, ‘We shed our blood and go with you from the beginning and this is what we get back.’ There is a sense of betrayal.”

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who opposes the freezing of the project, will meet with Druze leaders in July, it was reported.

The Enlight Renewable Energy company announced the groundbreaking for the $350 million Genesis Wind project in June, which is to include 38 advanced wind turbines.

The company threatened to sue the state for billions of shekels if work on the project does not proceed.

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