Ben-Gvir orders Golan turbine work to resume despite Druze riots

Ben-Gvir stated that the construction of wind turbines will pause during the feast of Eid al-Adha, but will continue before and after.

 Druze protest while police guard during a protest against the construction of a new wind farm near the Druze village of Majdal Shams, in the Golan Heights, June 21, 2023.  (photo credit: AYAL MARGOLIN/FLASH90)
Druze protest while police guard during a protest against the construction of a new wind farm near the Druze village of Majdal Shams, in the Golan Heights, June 21, 2023.
(photo credit: AYAL MARGOLIN/FLASH90)

Work on the construction of wind turbines in the Golan Heights will continue until Eid al-Adha, pause during the feast and will then continue as planned, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said at the end of a meeting with Druze leaders on Thursday.

"Sovereignty is important to all of us, the project will continue and the State of Israel will not surrender to those who threw Molotov cocktails and stones, and the sheikh also unequivocally opposes it," Ben-Gvir stated after the meeting. "The sheikh explained to me about the sanctity of the holiday that will begin next week, so I informed him that before and after the holiday the work will continue, but on the days of the holiday the work will not take place, and I congratulate the company that showed sensitivity to the holiday and agreed to the plan."

The construction work in the Golan Heights resumed on Thursday morning after an order by Ben-Gvir, despite Druze protests and riots against the construction. Israel Police stated that, despite Israeli media reports that a freeze of the work had originally been ordered by the chief of police, no such order had been issued.

Ben-Gvir and police chief Kobi Shabtai met with Druze leaders on Thursday. Ben-Gvir told the Druze leaders that the work on the turbines must continue, stressing that the work will not take place on Eid al-Adha, which is set to take place next week. The Druze community also marks the ten days leading up to the holiday as a period of prayer, meditation and fasting.

"I love the Druze community, we are together," Ben-Gvir said at the meeting, but later added that "On the other hand, there is also a law! We are a country with laws... I don't want any community to threaten the law, and this is true for you as well and this must be said clearly."

On Thursday evening, three people were arrested in Haifa at a demonstration in support of the Druze community, which was attended by around 100 people.

On Wednesday evening, leaders of Israel's Druze community called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze the construction of the turbines after protesters clashed with police over the planned construction.

"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," wrote the community leaders in a letter to Netanyahu, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and National Security Council head Tzachi Hanegbi shared on Facebook on Thursday.

"Concurrently with the freeze of the work, a joint committee of Druze leaders, representatives of the Golan Heights community and representatives of the government should meet and discuss the matter until an agreed-upon and satisfactory solution is found," added the leaders. "The heads of the community are aware of the explosive situation prevailing today in Druze towns and expect the government to also show the required sensitivity."

"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."

Shaykh Mowafaq Tarif, the leader of the Druze community in Israel, stated on Facebook on Thursday that the construction work had been halted in the meantime, although the post was later deleted.

 Druze protest while police guard during a protest against the construction of a new wind farm in the Druze village of Mas'ada, in the Golan Heights, June 21, 2023. (credit: AYAL MARGOLIN/FLASH90)
Druze protest while police guard during a protest against the construction of a new wind farm in the Druze village of Mas'ada, in the Golan Heights, June 21, 2023. (credit: AYAL MARGOLIN/FLASH90)

Tarif told KAN Reshet Bet radio on Thursday that the turbines are being built on privately-owned land, adding that there is state land nearby that could be used for the turbines.

Tarīf stressed that he is against any violence, but added that he has warned for years that the government's neglect of the Druze community, including a lack of building permits over the past 40 years, would lead to an explosion. "The same position paper I gave Netanyahu yesterday, I gave to him in 2014."

Protests 'result of pent-up anger in the hearts of the Druze community'

In a statement published on Facebook on Wednesday, Tarīf stressed that "The unfortunate outcome we are seeing today was obvious to us from the beginning."

"In the past, we had warned all government agencies of the dire consequences of implementing the 'wind turbines' project in the Golan without continuing negotiations and coordination with the people of the region.

"What we are witnessing from the protests and demonstrations in recent days, is the result of pent-up anger in the hearts of the Druze community for many years, in which we have suffered injustice and discrimination in many areas, especially the issue of land and the disaster of planning and construction."

"Druze have a legitimate and constitutional right to protest and express their opinion and anger," added Tarif, calling on members of the community to protest lawfully without blocking roads or harassing the general public.

"We ask the Israeli police to behave responsibly and have patience with the demonstrators as in other parts of the country."

On Tuesday and Wednesday, thousands of Druze Israelis in the Golan Heights clashed with Israel Police on Wednesday as they protested against the construction of wind turbines in the area.

The protestors attempted to take over a police station, throwing Molotov cocktails and stones at the police officers who responded by opening fire. The police said that some protestors shot at them, injuring several officers.

Two protestors, 22 and 45 years old, were moderately injured by police fire. They were taken to a nearby hospital.

Druze and Jewish activists against the planned wind turbines are set to hold a rally on the matter on Thursday afternoon next to Lake Ram.

Druze, Jewish activists have protested against turbine plan for years

The Druze community and Jewish environmental activists in the Golan Heights has protested against the planned wind turbines for years.

In March, Druze and Jewish activists held an emergency conference on the matter amid concerns that work would begin on the turbines within a matter of weeks, according to Davar, a news outlet run by the Histadrut labor union.

“The struggle started five years ago," Nabi Halabi, one of the organizers of the conference and the leader of the protest movement, told Davar at the time. “This is a declaration of war.”

Halabi noted that originally residents supported the turbines project, saying "The residents saw it as a source of green energy and a source of income, but when the damage to health, nature, landscape and agriculture became clear – everyone withdrew their support. Even the Society for the Protection of Nature disapproves of this hazard."

"For five years we resisted, and the company used its economic and political power. Two fronts were opened in the Golan Heights – the Druze and the 'Guardians of the Golan,' a Jewish association that opposes the erection of turbines."

Halabi added at the time that the activists were asking for the project to be frozen for at least two years in order to study the impact of the other wind farms already built in the area.

In 2019, Druze and Jewish activists, including the BIMKOM organization and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), began expressing opposition to the planned wind turbines, warning that the project would harm human rights and severely harm the local community.

The ACRI stated at the time that it was concerned that the project "will ultimately harm a series of human rights, including the right to health, livelihood, and the choice of this unique community to live as they choose."

"The plan will destroy much of the community’s agricultural lands and will tarnish the breathtaking scenery of the region. Notably, there is no single other example of this kind of plan, in which wind turbines and electricity farms are built so close to residential areas that residents are able to see the turbines from the windows in their homes."

The ACRI noted that the planned wind farm is set to be built on an agricultural area where the village of Skhita used to sit. "Skhita is not only an agricultural area, it is an integral and dominant part of the identity and traditions of the residents. In the afternoon and evening hours, it is a place of refuge and recreation; in the summer, it is a place where residents can go to lie and rest under the sun."

BIMKOM stressed that the turbines "would cause disproportionate damage to the unique social agricultural fabric of the society, which constitutes their cultural heritage." The organization added that the turbines would also cause scenic damage and could even harm local health due to the constant vibration and noise they cause.

According to BIMKOM, most of the objections filed against the project were rejected, although the number of turbines was decreased to 25 and the amount of land needed for the project was reduced.