ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 150

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4 Druze seriously injured, 12 cops hurt in massive riots against Golan wind farm

Official warns of ‘intifada’ amid anger at project near farmland; police stress program is legal; protesters said to use live fire, firebombs to try and overrun police position

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

  • Tear gas fumes fill the air as members of the Druze community gather with their flags in a protest against an Israeli wind turbine project near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights on June 21, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
    Tear gas fumes fill the air as members of the Druze community gather with their flags in a protest against an Israeli wind turbine project near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights on June 21, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
  • Druze face off against police 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. (Israel Police)
    Druze face off against police 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. (Israel Police)
  • Members of the Druze community set tires aflame as they protest against an Israeli wind turbine project planned in agricultural lands near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights on June 21, 2023. (Photo by Jalaa MAREY / AFP)
    Members of the Druze community set tires aflame as they protest against an Israeli wind turbine project planned in agricultural lands near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights on June 21, 2023. (Photo by Jalaa MAREY / AFP)
  • Members of the Druze community carry a demonstrator injured during protests and riots in their village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights on June 21, 2023. (Photo by Jalaa MAREY / AFP)
    Members of the Druze community carry a demonstrator injured during protests and riots in their village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights on June 21, 2023. (Photo by Jalaa MAREY / AFP)
  • Israeli police forces deploy to disperse protests and riots by members of the Druze community near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, on June 20, 2023. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)
    Israeli police forces deploy to disperse protests and riots by members of the Druze community near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, on June 20, 2023. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)
  • Israeli police forces deploy to disperse protests and riots by members of the Druze community near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, on June 20, 2023. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)
    Israeli police forces deploy to disperse protests and riots by members of the Druze community near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, on June 20, 2023. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Thousands of Druze residents of the Golan Heights rioted for the second day Wednesday against the construction of a new wind farm near the town of Majdal Shams, burning tires and hurling rocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails at massive police forces securing the area.

The Israel Police urged the public to stay away.

Twelve police officers were wounded. Four demonstrators were seriously injured, one of them from gunfire, along with three moderately and one lightly. The injured were taken to Ziv hospital in Safed, with three — including two of the seriously injured — transferred to Rambam hospital in Haifa.

The protests were held in several locations. Police said they had escalated into masses of people blocking roads and trying to storm the police position in the town of Mas’ade, and some using live fire.

The mayor of the Druze town of Daliyat al-Karmel, Rafik Halabi, told several Hebrew media outlets that the protests could spiral into an “intifada” — the term for an uprising used for two major waves of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis — and that the community was experiencing “great fury” at Israel’s policies and planning laws.

A station of wind turbines in the Golan Heights, June 20, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Israel has made it a goal to veer its energy production increasingly toward clean means, with wind power an important component of those plans. The Energy Ministry has said the Golan Heights, with its high altitude and windswept valleys, is an optimal location for wind farms.

But the plan has angered Druze villagers who see the project as a threat to their agrarian way of life, an encroachment on ancestral lands and a solidification of what they view as Israel’s “occupation” of the territory.

They contend that the giant, soaring poles and the infrastructure needed to construct them will impede their ability to work their plots. They also say the turbines will disturb the almost sacred bond they feel to their land, which is passed down by generation and where families go to for fresh air and green space.

Landowners who signed lease agreements with Energix, the company behind the project, say they weren’t made aware of the potential implications of having a turbine on their plot. They say they were tempted by hefty sums into signing what they describe as draconian leases that, coupled with a boycott on the company imposed by influential religious leaders, have made many want to withdraw.

Druze face off against police during a protest against the construction of a new wind farm near the Druze village of Majdal Shams, in the Golan Heights, June 20, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Police said in statements Tuesday and Wednesday that the deals were all legal and that all the payments have been completed, and condemned the “thuggish and violent” behavior. The force called on Druze community leaders to “accept the legal procedure done with the turbine project and calm the atmosphere, and avoid spreading fake news on social media about injured sheikhs.”

Police said that forces employed riot control means and that in one case, a cop “was forced to fire gunshots after he felt an immediate danger to his life when a group of masked people approached holding rocks.” The statement added that one of the rioters, “who ran toward [the cop] probably with a sharp object, was lightly injured in his leg from the gunfire.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the head of the far-right Religious Zionism coalition party, issued a statement supporting the police forces in “enforcing the law, order and governance in the Golan Heights.” He reiterated that the turbine project was legal and backed continuing and completing the work rather than “giving in to violence.”

Smotrich acknowledged the failure to plan adequately in Druze localities and said this would be dealt with “as part of a major program we are advancing in the government.”

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed the territory in 1981 — a move that was not internationally recognized until the administration of former US president Donald Trump did so in 2019.

The Golan’s 26,000 Druze, belonging to an offshoot of Islam, speak Hebrew and hold Israeli residency status that gives them the right to travel and work freely. The area is also home to some 22,000 Israeli Jews, and is a popular destination for Israeli tourists.

But most of the Druze residents have chosen not to take Israeli citizenship — meaning they do not vote in national elections and therefore have no elected representatives in the Knesset — and many still feel inextricably linked to Syria, though that has slowly been changing with more and more Druze quietly applying for citizenship.

AP contributed to this report.

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