Israeli annexation of Jordan Valley bleeding Palestinians dry


Although the valley has a third of the West Bank’s water resources, Palestinians have not been allowed drill wells since 1967, writes Michael Jansen

THE JORDAN Valley is a patchwork of different shades of brown and beige desert relieved by snatches of palm-frond green. Cropped fields are eating up the flat land while Israeli settlements and military zones are consuming the rolling hills, shrinking Palestinian space.

A thick band of dead land stretches north to south for 120km behind barbed wire, security roads, and mine fields along the Jordan river border with the Kingdom of Jordan.

Since occupying East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, Israel has regarded the valley as its eastern border. Israel says it would never withdraw because the valley, 30 per cent of the West Bank, provides strategic depth and a buffer zone. Over the past 43 years Israel has planted 36 settlements and half a dozen military camps here.

These assets also give Israel control of the valuable resources of the valley which Palestinians insist must belong to their future state.

Officials argue that a Palestinian entity without the valley would would have no sovereignty, no control over any of its borders, an essential component of statehood. If Israel were to retain the valley, the West Bank would be another Gaza, a place where Israel exercises complete control of land, sea and air space.

The Israeli settlements we drive past are small clusters of pastel painted houses with steep roofs resembling homes pictured in coffee table books about Hungary. Ashraf Khatib of the Palestinian Negotiations Support Unit said 50 per cent of the land has been allocated to the 9,000 settlers.

This has been achieved by denying Palestinians the rights to build, plant and graze livestock. Nature reserves and the military have taken 45 per cent.

Concrete tablets bearing warnings in Hebrew, Arabic and English not to stray into free-fire zones have been erected by the army. But on a forbidden hillside, sheep risked confiscation by grazing under the watchful eye of a Palestinian teenager in a red T-shirt.

Israel’s occupation regime leaves 5 per cent of the land for the 56,000 Palestinian valley residents, 70 per cent of whom dwell in its main town Jericho, which is surrounded by a trench that limits access to three checkpoints. The population of 10,000-year-old Jericho – which claims to be the world’s oldest continually inhabited town – has grown exponentially due to the influx of valley villagers who have abandoned or been evicted from their homes and farms.

The Israelis have recently tried to oust Bedouin by demolishing their miserable shelters of tin and tarp. But they have lived in the valley for generations and refuse to budge. They are preparing for a better future by sending their children to school, girls as well as boys, observed Ashraf.

We turn off the broad main north-south road onto a pathetic strip of concrete provided by USAID to the scruffy village of Zebedat and make our way uphill over a rough track to the home of the mayor, next to a massive water tank. The view is of a jumble of flat-roofed houses and animal pens built of scrap metal and wood. Although the valley contains one-third of the West Bank’s water resources, Palestinians have not been allowed to drill wells since 1967.

Their wells are shallow and yield saline water, limiting the type of crops they can grow.

Settlers sink deep boreholes and consume more than six times the amount used by Palestinians. “While settlers grow pineapples, tomatoes and cucumbers, crops that need lots of water, Palestinians are shifting to date palms and crops that need little,” observed Ashraf.

“Settlers have also put in vast stretches of date palms and erected plastic greenhouses that look like fat caterpillars lounging on the red earth. Palestinian farmers are not allowed to bring in certain fertilisers used by the settlers,” said Ashraf. Consequently, Palestinian tomatoes and cucumbers are smaller and cannot compete with Israeli produce in the market. Palestinian produce is funnelled through the Hamra checkpoint where lorries often sit for hours in the blazing sun.