Life in Jordan Valley strangled by Israeli military control

Families have been evicted from their Jordan Valley homes in the occupied West Bank.

Anne Paq ActiveStills

JERUSALEM (IPS) - For 61-year-old Abd al-Rahim Bisharat, life in the Bedouin community of al-Hadidiya in the northern Jordan Valley is anything but easy. “The problem is not only poverty, but the degree of how [the Israelis] treat us as humans, our rights as humans,” Bisharat told IPS over the phone from his home, with the sound of roosters crowing in the background. “We have no transportation, no electricity, no water, no health, no education.

“And you have the [Israeli] separation wall and the gates. We suffer from the army and are oppressed by it, [and] also from the civil administration and from the settlers.”

The Jordan Valley covers nearly 30 percent of the total territory of the occupied West Bank. Nearly all of the Jordan Valley falls into Area C, which under the Oslo accords is under full Israeli military control. In addition, over three-quarters of the Jordan Valley has been declared closed military zones, state land or nature reserves, and is thereby off-limits for the area’s Palestinian residents.

Bisharat explained that the residents of al-Hadidiya suffer under each of these various dimensions of Israeli control, since three Jewish-only settlements, three Israeli military training areas and nature reserves surround the village on all sides.

The most troubling aspect of daily life, however, involves Israeli settlers and the Israeli soldiers and police that protect them, he said.

“As we know, the police all around the world is the body that protects the law, but here, the settlers, all they have to do is to call the police when they want to attack one of us,” Bisharat said.

“The settler only has to make a phone call and then do nothing but stand there and watch the humiliation of the Palestinian, while the police and the military are beating the Palestinian up. All of our trouble comes from the settler.”

In the late 1970s, Israel began building Jewish-only settlements in the Jordan Valley. By early 2011, over 9,300 Israeli settlers lived in 37 settlements in the area, including seven unauthorized outposts.

It is estimated that approximately 64,450 Palestinians live in 29 communities in the Jordan Valley and that another 15,000 Palestinians live in dozens of Bedouin communities in the area.

B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, released the report “Dispossession and Exploitation: Israel’s policy in the Jordan Valley and Northern Dead Sea” in May. It found that Israel maintains its control of the region by exploiting four specific areas: land, water, tourist sites and natural resources.

“Israel has closed more than three-quarters of the land area to Palestinians and has prohibited them from working the area’s fertile land. Israel has restricted Palestinian access to water sources such that, in some Palestinian villages, water consumption is minimal and comparable to that of disaster areas,” the report states.

It adds, “Israel also restricts Palestinian movement and prevents Palestinians from building and developing their communities. It has also taken control of the tourist sites and enables private enterprises to exploit and profit from the minerals in the area.”

According to Shir Hever, an Israeli economist and author of the book The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation, while Israel’s overall profits earned from agricultural businesses in the Jordan Valley are not high compared to other areas, the agricultural sector greatly influences the Israeli government.

“Israel has extensive agribusiness interests in the Jordan Valley, most notably through the company Carmel-Agrexco, which is the main exporter of agricultural products from Israel. Israeli colonist farmers in the Jordan Valley produce products that are sold to Palestinian consumers, Israeli consumers and exported abroad,” Hever told IPS.

Hever explained that while European laws specify that goods made in occupied territory must be properly labeled and cannot be identified as “Made in Israel,” Israel does not properly abide by this regulation. A boycott of Israeli products is therefore necessary, he said.

“Consumers must be careful not to buy Israeli products from the illegal colonies, not to encourage the colonization and exploitation of Palestine. But because of Israel’s international falsification of labels, it would be recommended to consumers to avoid buying any products from Israel,” Hever said.

“One must of course bear in mind the Palestinian call [for boycott, divestment and sanctions, BDS] rather than have separate campaigns against the many different forms of injustice perpetrated by Israel, Palestinian activists would like to see the struggle for the rights of Palestinians in the Jordan Valley as part of their overall struggle for freedom and ask for international solidarity.”

Sustained control of the Jordan Valley has been a priority of the Israeli government since it began occupying the territory in 1967 — along with the rest of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip — after the 1967 War.

Formulated shortly after Israel’s 1967 military victory, the Allon Plan, named after then-Israeli Labor Minister Yigal Allon, outlined Israel’s intention to control virtually all the Jordan Valley, including the outlying Jerusalem area.

More recently, in his speech to the US Congress on 24 May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that “places of critical strategic and national importance [would] be incorporated into the final borders of Israel” should a peace agreement be signed with the Palestinian leadership. According to many analysts, this statement was largely referring to the Jordan Valley, an area that Netanyahu has in the past explicitly stated would always remain under Israeli control.

In March of this year, for instance, Netanyahu said that the sustained presence of Israeli soldiers in the Jordan Valley is crucial for Israeli security, especially in light of the uprisings and democratic movements taking place throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

For Abd al-Rahim Bisharat, Israel’s goal of taking full and permanent control of the Jordan Valley is clear. “Their goal is that they want us [to] get tired of our land and leave it so that they can expand the settlements,” he told IPS.

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