Freedom Machine in Hebron (Green-Challenging the Settlements)

Introduction

Hebron fosters these days a new kind of nonviolent resistance against the Israeli settlements through a youth group called 'Youth Against Settlements'. The group was able to stop the expansion of settlements into the heart of Hebron by means of nonviolent popular and legal activities, and also by altering parts of the areas threatened by settlements into lively areas bursting with non-partisan cultural events and receptive to the world. Meezan Foundation(1) in cooperation with Heinrich Böll Foundation, Youth Against Settlements Group , and Green Palestine for Rural Development and a large group of individual supporters recently pulled off the first debut of the project that will transfer all the rooftops of the Old City into being productive rooftops. This comes as part of a collaborated effort to reinforce the steadfastness of the people in that area.

Hebron's agro-industrial distinctiveness is threatened

The city of Hebron is not an ordinary city. It might be the only Palestinian city whose 15% of its inhabitants work in industry, while another 15% work in agriculture (2009)(2) . This is evident in the grape vines and olive trees that intensively spread throughout all Hebron neighbourhoods, even in the city center; alongside all those small workshops and huge factories scattered throughout Hebron suburbs.

This positive distinctiveness allows the city a higher level of industrial and agricultural independence of that of other cities. On the other hand, Hebron is also inimitable in terms of the savageness of the Israeli settlements targeting the city. The settlements are located in the heart of and around Hebron, disconnecting the city. They are targeting its water resources and agricultural lands, and pose a threat to the livelihoods of the inhabitants working in the fields of agriculture and industry (3) . This workforce is declining by the day as a result of shortages of agricultural water which is drained for the benefit of the settlements, and due to the obstacles created by the Israeli occupation policies, thus hindering the agricultural and industrial development. It's worth mentioning here that Israel uses annually 44 million cubic meters of the water from the West Bank, especially the Jordan Valley. In contrast, only five million cubic meters less are reserved for the PA based on the numbers agreed upon in the Oslo II Interim Agreement which was signed 1995 by the PLO and Israel (4). Only 20% of the water resources located in the mountains of the West Bank is accessible to Palestinians (5).

As a result of this, Hebron has moved in the past years towards increasingly relying on commerce, and has become a prime shopping destination for Palestinians from the West Bank as well as from inside Israel. The number of workers in the commerce field has risen unmistakably: from 11254 in 1997 to 17627 in 2007. Conversely, the number of workers in farming alarmingly dropped from 6414 to 1161, and in industry has declined from 13406 workers to 12012, both from the same period (6). These figures reveal a real risk that threatens food security as well as the economics of the area which is pivotal to the Palestinian economy and steadfastness. The problem escalated in the years 2008 and 2009 by the drought wave that hit south of Palestine when annual rainfall declined by 20%. All this contributed to the abandonment of many of their agricultural lands (7). This reality of this is often confirmed by the inhabitants and can be obviously seen in the landscape in and around the city of Hebron as well as the surrounding areas.

The Freedom Machine to face the problems of agriculture, industry, and settlements

The main problem that faces the Mediterranean region is the provision of agricultural water. This is of utmost importance in the Palestinian case where it is a matter of existence to keep people on their land, especially in view of the expansion of the Israeli settlements and the efforts to empty the land of its Palestinian inhabitants. The Freedom Machine is an agro-industrial project and an energy productive one as well, a project that aims at facing the challenge of water shortages and the subsequent desertion of agriculture and industry. At a first glance, the project looks like a mere greenhouse on the roof of a building. It is so, but its functions are way beyond a greenhouse. This house is food productive, as it uses the aquaponics system, a technique that is low on the consumption of water and fertilizers. Through this system, fish and vegetables are produced through circulating the aquaculture water in order to utilize the fish excretions as nutrient for the plants. Furthermore, the plants purify the water from its residues; the clean water is then re-circulated back into the aquaculture systems. As a result, the system produces vegetables and fish at the same time, cutting down on the cost of needed fertilizers and water.

In winter time, the greenhouse serves as a rainfall harvester, as the plastic roof is fitted with a rain catcher, and is connected to a water reservoir also placed on the roof. In addition, the Freedom Machine provides the households with an average of four to five hours of free heating. Because it's transparent, the plastic structure allows the sunshine in, thus heating the inside of the greenhouse even on cold winter days. Then the heated air is pumped into the building through an electric fan and a temperature controlling system that moves the hot air from the greenhouse to inside the house. On rainy and snowy days, the greenhouse serves as a thermal isolator on the roof which lessens the consumption of energy for heating purposes. For summer days, however, the Freedom Machine has a built-in system that transforms it from a greenhouse to a sunshade, blocking more than 50% of sunshine falling on the roof, thus saving on the needed energy for cooling, as well as saving on the amount of water needed for the plantation on the roof. Additionally, the tube that connects the house with the greenhouse vents out the hot air from inside the house. This happens because the opening for the tube is located high on the wall, therefore contributing to further cooling of the inside of the house during the summer through natural air flow.

In short, the Freedom Machine has five functions: a) producing food by means that are low on water and nutrients needs; b) solar energy generation for winter heating; c) rainfall harvesting; d) roof insulation serving energy saving; d) shading the house roof thus contributing to cooling.

These functions put together save energy and water, as well as augment the animal and farming produce. At the same time, however, it corresponds to the fact that Hebron is an agro-industrial city. The key matter of Freedom Machine is relying on the local resources and techniques. All Freedom Machine projects in Jordan and Switzerland were adapted so that they can be locally manufactured without importing any special materials, and through training a local cadre capable of reproducing the system, maintaining it, and spreading its idea. For all these reasons, the Freedom Machine in Hebron gives an industrial opportunity to the workshops and local factories to locally make and market the system. Moreover, the farming techniques that are used in this system can serve to develop farming not only on rooftops, but also through hundreds of micro projects in agricultural lands abandoned as a result of lack of water. Scientific estimations indicate the aquaponics save at least 50% of water compared to traditional farming methods, in addition to saving costs for fertilizers. This gives hope of reactivating husbandry in Hebron despite chronic water shortage.

What have we done in Hebron?

Over the course of two months (July to September 2013), the following was accomplished:

a) identify the agricultural situation in Palestine through field visits to farming projects throughout the West Bank;

b) identifying the special situation in Hebron, and the effect of settlements on emptying the Old City from its inhabitants through targeting farming and production projects by occupation and settlements;

c) finding an appropriate location in Hebron to install the first Freedom Machine, and making the agreement with a family interested in farming and industry to operate and take care of the Freedom Machine;

d) building a network of the organizations, individuals, companies, and workshops who brought about the first model of Freedom Machine in Hebron and which are able to reproduce, improve, and maintain it in the future;

e) adjusting the Freedom Machine in accordance with the climate in Hebron, as well as the needs and availability of sources and materials. In this regard, the farming area in the machine was enlarged, as well as the reservoir in which the rain water is stored. In addition, alternative local materials were used for shading and water collecting, relying on what is available in local markets;

f) producing an informational film to introduce the Freedom Machine, its functions, and its importance to Hebron and Palestine, as well as the region in general. Another short film was also completed aiming to promote the project and to raise funds to set up more machines in Hebron is specific, and in Palestine in general.

Challenges facing the project

The most important challenge that faced the project was the restrictions on movement within the city of Hebron put by the Israeli Occupation Authorities. This made transporting the needed materials difficult. Since the occupation policies in the city prohibit the usage of cars by Palestinians in certain areas, we were obliged to either carry the heavy materials or use small wheelbarrows, with the help of volunteers from the area. On top of transportation difficulties, the occupation forces further delayed the process by rummaging around the construction materials without stating a reason. This came as a result of radical settlers objecting the construction happening in Palestinian houses next to theirs. The project team and I were subject to numerous obstructions by settlers. We were even accused of stealing livestock from the settlement, and for that, the army and the police were called in to interrogate us! Luckily their accusations were not taken seriously. In another two separate incidents , Israeli soldiers trespassed onto the roof where the Freedom Machine was installed and attempted to damage it. The house owners and a number of foreign activists successfully pressured them to leave the place. In many Palestinian villages with non-violent resistance activities as well as in the city of Hebron and in East Jerusalem, it is a common occurrence that rooftops are invaded by Israeli soldiers; settling there, horrifying the inhabitants of the houses with their continuous presence (8).

The future of the project

After completing the first model and operating it, we experienced a very positive reaction in Hebron, and the project and its various functions were widely welcomed. The next step and challenge will be to spread the idea across the whole Hebron area and in other Palestinian areas threatened by settlements. To achieve this, coordination and consultations were undertaken with a big number of civil society organizations, popular and official entities, as well as international organizations in Palestine and abroad. In the coming months, the promotional film which was filmed during the construction of the first model will be widely distributed and circulated through social media and crowd funding channels, allowing individuals in and outside Palestine to contribute to this project. In case of attaining the needed financing, the following step will be transforming the roofs of a whole neighbourhood in Palestine from regular rooftops to energy-food-water generating rooftops. We call upon you to spread the word and be part of making this project a success story that continues to make a difference in the lives of people under occupation, thus supporting their steadfastness in the face of tough circumstances.

[1] Meezan is a not-for-profit organization founded in Amman in 2011. Since then, Meezan has implemented projects in more than eight places in three countries: Jordan, Switzerland, and Palestine. For more information: www.meezan.cc, and to follow Meezan's news on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/groups/meezanarabia

[2] ARIJ (2009), 'Hebron City Profile', p.12. http://vprofile.arij.org/hebron/pdfs/Hebron%20City%20profile.pdf (Retrieved: 30.10.2013)

[3] Hilal, R. and Salaymeh, J, (2011),  ‘Study of the Economic Opportunities in Hebron Governorate and the South’, p. 20, 21, http://www.tvet-pal.org/sites/default/files/Hebron%20English%20report_0.pdf (Retrieved: 30.10.2013)

[4] For further reading please see: Selby, Jan (2013): Cooperation, Domination, and Colonisation: The Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee. http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/12318/1/Art6-1-1.pdf (retrieved: 11.11.2013)

[5] B’selem (2008), ‘1 July 2008: B'Tselem warns of grave water shortage in the West Bank)’, http://www.btselem.org/water/2008070_acute_water_shortage_in_the_west_bank (Retrieved: 30.10.2013)

[6] Hilal, R. and Salaymeh, J, (2011),  ‘Study of the Economic Opportunities in Hebron Governorate and the South’, p. 20, 21, http://www.tvet-pal.org/sites/default/files/Hebron%20English%20report_0.pdf (Retrieved: 30.10.2013)

[7] ARIJ and WFP (2010), ‘Socio-Economic and Food Security Atlas’, p. 68, http://www.arij.org/publications/2010/Chapter%204.pdf  (Retrieved: 30.10.2013)

[8] An example of this can be read through this link: http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=633978

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Comments

water food and energy is

water food and energy is freely avalible for all what lives,when we learn to coaporate with the laws of nature and not the laws of capital. ( d.d-tamer)
freedom begin with each droop of water harvested and ignatinf life ina seed that becomes our food thank you for this

Thanks for this article and

Thanks for this article and to contribute to create this kind of freedom !
I'm actually writting an article about the Freedom Machine, I was there and take some pictures from inside but they are bad and dark. Can I use one of your pictures to illustrate my article. Thank you in advance for your attention

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