Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to halt construction work for wind turbines on the Golan Heights after the local Druze community increased their protests of what they claim would destroy their fields and lives. In conversation with Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, Netanyahu said all work will be stopped until after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha which begins next week.
Earlier, thousands of Druze protested in the Golan Heights against the establishment of a wind turbine facility for renewable energy production in the northern part of the Golan. Police forces are present in the construction area in the face of the disturbances caused by the protesters, which include tire burning, stone-throwing, firing flares, and even throwing Molotov cocktails toward police forces.
Two protesters, a 40-year-old man and a 20-year-old man, were seriously injured, one of them from gunfire. The head of the Daliyat al-Karmel Council, Rafik Halabi, said in an interview with Ynet Radio that within the Druze community, "there is very great rage. We are on the verge of an intifada in Druze villages in Israel."
In light of the protests, the police issued an unusual public statement: "It is recommended not to come to the Golan Heights area except for the village of Buq'ata." The message further stated that "despite the agreements, thousands of Druze continue to throw Molotov cocktails and stones and engage in severe violence against the police forces guarding the construction of the turbines in the Golan Heights. The police call on the leaders of the Druze community to act to calm the situation."
Hundreds of protesters attempted to break into the police station in the village of Mas'ade and fired flares directly at police officers. The police reported that the officers managed to repel the protesters.
"Many Druze individuals arrived at the police station in Mas'ade in the Golan Heights and tried to take control of it. They threw stones, set tires on fire, punctured police vehicle tires, and even fired live ammunition. Some of the officers were injured by the thrown stones. In response, the police dispersed the group and pushed them away from the area," the police stated.
At least 12 police officers have so far been reported injured.
Regarding the protests, the police said in a statement: "Contracts have been signed, and substantial amounts of money have been paid to landowners, leaders and local authorities, who demand the implementation of the project. The Israel Police calls on the leaders of the Druze community to accept the legal process, calm tensions and refrain from spreading fake news on social media. The members of the community are an integral part of Israeli society, holding key positions, and have been an example of democracy and adherence to the law over the years. Violent and oppressive behavior, including roadblocks, tire burnings, and damaging traffic lights, may result in injuries and affect the existing relations.
Due to the protests, Highway 85 at the Yasif Junction was blocked in all directions, as well as Highway 70 at the Somekh Interchange in both directions. In addition, Highway 89 was blocked at the Tefen Junction, and Highway 854 was blocked at the Kishor Junction.
The demonstrations against the establishment of the facility began on Tuesday, when clashes were also reported between police officers and Druze protesters, as well as several injuries. Today's large-scale protest takes place against the backdrop of a widespread message via social media on Tuesday, calling on Druze from across the Galilee to come to the Golan to protest, and to block the Elyakim Junction.
The construction project is being carried out following immense pressure from National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. Officials in the police force warned against withdrawing, stating, "The State of Israel cannot succumb to violent coercion."
For years, the state has attempted to establish wind turbine farms, but each time, due to concerns of clashes, the police refused to secure the construction site.
A 29-year-old Druze protester was moderately injured, apparently from a rubber bullet, and was brought to the Magen David Adom station in Mas'ade. Medics and paramedics provided him with medical treatment and he was airlifted by helicopter to the Rambam Hospital in Haifa. Another young man, 19, was also moderately injured and was transported via ambulance with MDA teams to the Ziv Medical Center in Safed.
The police reported that the officers and Border Police troops at the scene responded to the disorderly conduct protest dispersal methods. However, one of the officers was forced to fire his weapon after feeling an immediate threat to his life when a group of masked individuals approached him carrying stones. The police noted that the injured person was one of the masked individuals who ran toward the officer, apparently holding a sharp object.
Halabi explained that, although the establishment of the wind turbine facility was the immediate cause of the violent protests, "this is the result of tremendous anger and rage. We are in a complete breakdown of relations."
Halabi added, "The State of Israel does not understand that the Druze villages are simply in an enormous storm and in a much more difficult situation than what is happening in the Golan Heights and other places." He emphasized that "we are on the verge of an intifada, you just don't understand or recognize what is happening here. A week ago, we spoke with the head of the Shin Bet, Ronen Bar, and he knows, as does the government, that there is tremendous anger over what is happening here as a result of the Kaminitz Law."
The Kaminitz Law, which was approved in the Knesset in 2017, is an amendment to Israel’s Building and Planning law that gave the government increased enforcement powers including on demolition and eviction orders, and substantially increased the use of financial penalties against offenders.
The law has faced severe criticism. "There is the State of Israel for Jews and there is the State of Israel for non-Jews and, unfortunately, the Druze have fallen victim to discrimination in recent years," said Halabi. "One young man serves in the Shaldag unit, another serves in the Golani Brigade, they go out to fight in various territories, and when they return home, they encounter the Kaminitz Law, which prohibits them from building."
Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif, the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, stated: "In the past, I warned all government officials about the implications of the wind turbine project in the Golan Heights and the consequences of carrying out work without coordination and completion of negotiations with the residents. The message fell on deaf ears. I call on the prime minister and the Israel Police to order an immediate halt to the work to prevent bloodshed."
Tarif added: "The recent events and protests are an accumulation of years of anger toward a discriminatory policy in various areas, especially in matters of land, planning and construction. A demonstration is a legitimate and fundamental right of citizens. At the same time, I urge members of the community to exercise this right without disturbing the general public and without blocking major roads. I ask the police to exercise restraint as they have done in other places in the country."
Hamas also addressed the riots. "We condemn the brutal attack carried out by Zionist occupation forces against our Arab-Syrian brothers in the occupied Golan Heights during their protest against the occupation's decision to confiscate their agricultural lands for the construction of wind turbines. We express our support and solidarity with our people in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and affirm that the entire policy of Jewish occupation, uprooting and attempts to erase the Arab identity from the occupied lands will not break our Palestinian people and the Arab nations. They will not forget their lands and holy places and will remain steadfast in their covenant until the defeat of Zionist fascist occupation."
Energix Renewable Energies, which is building the turbines, said in a statement: "The company has promoted the project for years with the coordination and full support of the spiritual leader of the Druze community. Opponents, driven by anti-Israel motives, harm the livelihood of hundreds of families in the area employed by the project and deliberately ignore the significant contribution the project makes to the community in the Golan Heights.
"In recent months, negotiations were conducted at the initiative of the company and relevant government bodies in order to reach agreements and compromises, but all these attempts have failed due to the interference of foreign considerations and ideological reasons. Unfortunately, even after all the objections were examined by various professional bodies, some with an anti-Israel agenda, there are those who try to lead a battle that contradicts the national goals of developing the Golan Heights and achieving renewable energy targets set by the government."