Agrexco has become a target in international campaigns for a boycott of Israeli goods aimed at ending Israel’s breach of international law and human rights. For example the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the United Kingdom protested in the warehouse of Carmel Agrexco in Middlesex on 15 July 2007. Fruit and vegetable exporter Agrexco is fifty-percent owned by the Israeli state, and is responsible for the export of 60-70 percent of all settlement produce, including that from the Jordan Valley. The report “To exist is to Resist, Eye on the Jordan Valley” was recently published by MA’AN Development Center and the Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign. The report offers detailed information on the ongoing Israeli colonization of the highly fertile lands of the Jordan Valley. This article is based on the report and focuses on the illegal Israeli exploitation of the Jordan Valley.
Land grab at an unimaginable scale
The Palestinian Jordan Valley accounts for more than a quarter of the total area of the West Bank or about 2,400 square kilometers. Israel built three settlements in the Jordan Valley in 1968, and gradually increased the number of settlements for agricultural, industrial, military or religious purposes until the 1980s. Since the early 1990s the settlements expanded from 11 to 36, housing more than 6,200 settlers. The settlements occupy 1,200 square kilometers, or 50 percent of the Jordan Valley. Israel also controls 1,065 square kilometers (44 percent) of so-called closed zones like the border line, military bases and natural reserves. About 50 square kilometers of the Jordan Valley (two percent) are under combined Palestinian civil control and Israeli security control. The remaining 85 square kilometers in the area of Jericho and al-Uja, only 3.5 percent of Jordan Valley, fall under Palestinian control. Habitat International Coalition paints an even more sombre picture, where only 45 square kilometers, or two percent of the Jordan Valley, will remain for Palestinians. Furthermore, Ariel Sharon announced in 2003 that the Jordan Valley will be isolated from the West Bank by the construction of a wall of 300 kilometers. Currently only 52,000 Palestinians live permanently in the Jordan Valley, where the population once reached up to 350,000.
In 2005 the Israeli ministry of agriculture announced a two-year, 22 million USD program to double the number of settlers in the Jordan Valley by building new houses and the provision of grants for agricultural development. Settlers in the Jordan Valley enjoy privileges like free housing, 70,000 square meters of land per household, and a 20,000 US dollar long-term loan when they settle in the Jordan Valley. Settlers receive apart from this a 75 percent discount on electricity, utility, communication and transportation, and also free education, health care and irrigation water. Settlers can get their produce to the local markets within a few hours, including the Palestinian markets, and they can export to any country through Israeli companies like Agrexco.
In contrast, Palestinian land is confiscated for instance for “security” purposes, or because the land was not cultivated for three consecutive years, even if it was closed by military order. Palestinian buildings are demolished when they are situated outside Jericho and five other locations. Several Palestinian communities still have no access to electricity or utility. Communities in Israeli-controlled areas lack schools and health centers because building permits are refused. Palestinian farmers cannot export their produce freely, nor can they reach the local market easily because of the military checkpoints and closures. Under normal circumstances Palestinian farmers need three hours to get to the West Bank markets. To build packing houses close to their fields is not an option, because Palestinians never receive permission from the Israeli authorities to do so.
Since 2000 Israeli trucks have been prevented from going to Palestinian fields to pick up their trade. Instead, Palestinian farmers have to take their produce to Bardala-Bisan checkpoint crossing on the Green Line, where the load is emptied into Israeli trucks and delivered to Israeli markets. This led to an increase of transportation costs, which is not reflected in an increased price. The measures have led to a dramatic drop in trade, and an increase in the rate of unemployment to 21 percent in Jericho and Tubas districts. As a consequence the majority of the Palestinians in the Jordan Valley live under the poverty line.
Violation of Palestinian water rights
The Jordan Valley is very fertile, because of its access to water. Situated under the valley is the Eastern Water Basin, but Israel has severely limited the Palestinian use of water from this basin and allows the Palestinians to use 58 million cubic meters per year (40 percent of what is available). Besides, Palestinians are not allowed to use water from the Jordan River, which could provide 250 million cubic meters per year.
Since 1967 Israel as the occupying power has also isolated 162 agricultural wells, prohibiting Palestinians from using them. Israel also controls where wells are allowed to be placed, how deep they can drill and how much water can be pumped. As a result of the measures the settlers consume six times more water on their agricultural lands than Palestinians.
Settlements agricultural production flourishes
International humanitarian law prohibits Israel from transferring parts of its civilian population into the occupied Jordan Valley. The International Court of Justice urged the international community not to support settlements. Taking the privileges of the Jewish settlers in the Jordan Valley into account, it is no miracle that agricultural activities in the Jewish settlement are flourishing. The report offers a long list of products originating from the settlements in the Jordan Valley, mentioning dates, grapes, citrus fruit, bananas, cherries, melons, pomegranate, loquat, vegetables, onions, tomatoes, egg plants, corn and oat, medical herbs, spices, and flowers. Agrexco is one of the companies that exports the products to Europe.
Buying agricultural products from the settlements strengthens the Israeli economy at the cost of the Palestinian people and makes the occupation profitable.
- Download full report [PDF]
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate.