Solar Energy
for Hebron Bedouins

by Khalil Assali
Jerusalem Times

April 9, 1999

To the rest of the world, the name Michael North rings very few bells. But for the people in Arab El-Kaabneh, he is a saint. He is the knight who came to that primitive village carrying with him the technology of the 21st century.

Michael North is director of Green Star, an institute established only six months ago. Within this short time it has made history by turning solar energy into an electric current that now powers the health clinic in Arab El-Kaabneh, north of Hebron.

This village, says North, does not have basic electricity, water and medical care. Neither does it have the capability for communication with the outside world -- there are no telephones and no one seems interested in providing it to this remote area.

The village, however, does not lack sun light, as experts who made a study for a group of friends of the Middle East know very well. It was discovered that Arab El-Kaabneh and another village in the north of the West Bank have the most sun light in Palestine and therefore are the best places to use solar energy to provide basic necessities such as electricity and water.

Green Star, headed by Michael North, wanted to prove this could be done.

Friends of Michael North had talked to US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson about renewable energy and the various ways to use it. The Secretary asked them: do you have a working plan ready to put into action that is agreeable with the advances made during President Clinton's visit to the Middle East last December?

"Even though we didn't have any plan, we said 'yes' and within a month we made one," says North. "We brought the equipment and the machines from the U.S. and here I am implementing it today."

The project is fully financed by Green Star, with the US Government only giving technical assistance.

Michael North is an unusual person who is willing to take risks. He says he reached a point in his life where making money for money's sake was boring, and that the time had come to give something back to the Earth and the people who live on it.

He transferred his post as president of North Com, a Californian-based company that does business with companies like IBM, Citibank and MCI, to a friend. He had come to the heartfelt realization that he wanted to concentrate on transferring technology to remote places and help them use solar energy and recycled products in order to preserve the environment.

North says with a constant smile on his face, "I've earned enough money to last me for the rest of my life, and to give my daughter a very good life as well. I believe I should work now toward improving the lives of people in places that rarely find themselves being helped by outsiders."

As a result, he came up with the idea of the Washington-based Green Star company, which also has an office in North's home city of Los Angeles. He doesn't want to give merely economical and personal assistance but also to donate equipment which will help the people of Arab Kaabneh to receive the benefits from this advanced technology.

For this reason, a website was created under the name of Kaabneh to promote handicraft products made there. The village lies on the outskirts of the desert and overlooks the Dead Sea. It has no trees or crops. The villagers' main livelihood is the raising of livestock and they also make carpets and rababa (a bedouin musical instrument), in addition to dairy products such as yogurt and cheese.

North hopes that this electronic website will attract investment to Arab El-Kaabneh and that it will become part of the international trade that is conducted over the internet.

The moment the advanced computer was installed, smiles were seen on the faces of the village school teachers. One of them, Mahmoud Najadeh, said, "People have reached the moon and we in the village have reached the sun." Electricity had come Arab el-Kaabneh!

The computer was running on solar energy after special equipment brought over from the US was put on the roof of the school. The initial cost was $100,000.

North says that this is the first phase of his solar energy project. Work will soon begin on providing energy to the village clinic linked to a hospital in Hebron so that it becomes possible to treat emergency medical cases from a long distance away. Afterwards, the mosque will be lit with solar energy and, at a later stage, it will become possible to extract water from deep within the ground.

With this, Arab El-Kaabneh will have made history by virtue of being the first village in Palestine to be run by solar energy.

Michael North's next project will take place in a coffee-production village in India. He says he wants to help this village use solar energy and to produce coffee using recycled material which does not hurt the environment. It will be possible in the near future for the people there to drink coffee planted and produced with solar energy, and brought to stores packaged in material made from recycled products.

With this, North wants to once again make history like he made history in Palestine, in the very grateful village of Arab El-Kaabneh.