By Josh Newell
(Bethlehem, West Bank) — Two Palestinian brothers are attempting to harness the sun in the land where Jesus walked — a land that now sits in a hot political ‘climate’. Mohammad and Achmed Salem run Brother Engineering Group, a technology start up based in Bethlehem that seeks to bring clean, renewable energy to the West Bank. Despite the challenges that come from working in what they see as a military occupation, the brothers are not giving up their hope to see their side of the Green Line become energy independent.
“Here in [ The Palestinian] Authority, we don’t have anything. Our water, it’s not our water. They sell it to us. The electricity, they sell it to us. If we want to leave the country, the border is with them. They import everything,” said Dr. Mohammed Salem , founder of Brothers Engineering Group and pharmacists, businessman and social entrepreneur with Engineers without Borders.
Salem points out that Israel provides 95% of the power to the West Bank, with Jordan serving the rest. He is convinced that the solar panels that he and his brother offer can bring an energy savings to residents in the territories.
But brining solar solutions to the West Bank, they say, is not without its challenges.
As a Palestinian company, the brothers say they face an uphill battle trying to get their panels into the West Bank. Neither of the brothers can get the permits needed to go pick up the panels when they come from China. This means that in addition to higher import taxes in the West Bank, they must also add import fees for bringing product across the Green Line.
Marketing, they say, is also a challenge because of the current political climate.
“In Israel, we can’t make advertising. Google and Facebook, they won’t let us,” said Mohammed.
Nonetheless, the brothers forge ahead.
They spent months in the hot blistering sun in the summer of 2015 installing solar panels high atop the roof of the Bethlehem Hotel. It is the largest contract the brothers have ever undertaken. Despite its size, they still continue to take smaller orders for installations The brothers sell smaller systems that can be installed onto the roofs of family homes in the West Bank
With the installation on the roof of the hotel nearing completion, the future for Brother Engineering Group remains uncertain.