ISRAELI occupation forces issued ‘evacuation orders’ to around 100 Palestinian families living in the northern Jordan Valley, last Monday, demanding that they abandon their homes and leave the area.
The orders state that Israeli troops will be holding military drills in the northern Jordan Valley and that everyone must leave.
The evacuation affects around 1,000 Palestinian men, women and children living in rural communities around Wadi al-Maleh.
The Israeli army warned that if they have not left their homes by today they will be subject to penalties.
Many Palestinian families fear that if they leave, their homes will be destroyed by the Israeli forces. They also fear that if they stay their home will be destroyed as a ‘penalty’.
The Israeli forces claim that the ‘evacuation’ is temporary and will only last for 48 hours.
The Israel’s army said in a statement, ‘To ensure the safety of the local inhabitants, temporary eviction notices were distributed to the residents of the illegal structures located in a closed military zone to be used in the exercise.’
The Israeli army claimed that the residents will be allowed to return after the military exercises have been completed.
However the statement added, ‘It should be emphasised that these structures, located in closed military zones actively used by the IDF(Israeli Defence Force), are illegal in nature.’
This week’s evacuation follows a similar exercise in November, when hundreds of Palestinians in the Jordan Valley were ordered from their homes ahead of a military exercise in the area, which is designated ‘a closed military zone’.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says Israel has designated around 18 per cent of the West Bank as ‘closed military zones’.
This is an area roughly equal in size to Area A, the 17.7 per cent of the West Bank under Palestinian Authority control.
OCHA says that around 5,000 Palestinians live in ‘Israeli military firing zones’ in the West Bank.
Since 2010, Israel has demolished the homes of 820 Palestinians located in firing zones.
IRIN is a UN agency that has looked into the crisis facing the Palestinian people living in the Jordan Valley.
IRIN explained the differences in terrain between the Jordan Valley and Gaza city, the most densely populated area on earth.
The UN agency says that those who recently watched images of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza would be stunned by the stark contrast with the wide open hills of the Jordan Valley.
IRIN says that the Jordan Valley is highly sought after by the Israelis as it is home to some of the most fertile land in all of the occupied Palestinian territory and unrivalled even in Israel.
However, despite the abundant land and resources, Palestinians living in the Valley are some of the poorest in the Palestinian territory, lacking even the most basic infrastructure.
The Jordan Valley is marked by a patchwork of zones.
Palestinians are only allowed to live in these zones, which leaves little room for manoeuvre.
Ramesh Rajasingham, head of the OCHA in occupied Palestine explained: ‘These restrictions have removed their ability to be self-sustaining.
‘They are in an artificial humanitarian crisis; they have the capacity, the training, the education, but because of man-made restrictions, they are made vulnerable.’
Because of the Israeli restrictions, much of the Valley is officially out of bounds to Palestinians.
According to figures from Save the Children, 44 per cent is marked as closed military zones (including so-called firing zones) and nature reserves.
An additional 50 per cent is controlled by illegal Israeli settlements.
That leaves only 6 per cent for Palestinians.
A second layer of restrictions reinforces this exclusion: Under the Oslo peace accords, 90 per cent of the Valley was labelled ‘Area C’.
In this area of the West Bank, Israel retains full civil and military control, enabling it to restrict Palestinian movement, construction and development projects.
Ramesh Rajasingham continued: ‘A few years ago, communities in Area C were self-sustaining; they could trade, sell produce, graze their animals, and move around freely.’
IRIN reports that many of the Bedouin farming communities in these zones predate the Oslo accords and the firing zones (set up in the 1960s), but they now find themselves increasingly excluded or living a precarious existence.
Most Palestinians there live without sufficient access to clean water, while Israeli settlements nearby have plentiful water supplies subsidised by the Israeli government.
Within the firing zones, more than 90 per cent of the Palestinian communities are water scarce with access to less than 60 litres per person per day.
Food security in Area C is 24-34 per cent for the shepherds, many of whom live in the firing zones.
IRIN broke down some of the serious problems facing the Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley and looks at each one in some detail.
Overlooking the Valley are multiple Israeli military bases.
Army vehicles speed down the roads during the day, artillery fire echoes from nearby, while at night military helicopters circle overhead.
Seven weeks ago during the eight-day bombardment in Gaza, tanks, army jeeps and military camps were in the Valley as part of a training exercise carried out by the Israeli army, which their spokesperson’s unit said was necessary to ‘prepare for various security scenarios’.
They added that it was important for ‘intruders’ to ‘be kept clear from the military areas for the security of both soldiers and Palestinian civilians’.
Eid Ahmad Musa al-Fakir, a 68-year-old herder from the village of Hamamat Al-Maleh said: ‘The army came and said, “If you don’t leave this area for the training exercise, we will demolish your houses.
‘“You must go to Tayasir, which is far away from here.”
‘It was hard for us to go there with our sheep and our belongings and it’s now winter, we don’t have so much money and the animals are breeding.
‘So we moved just a short distance away to the roadside.’
In preparation for military exercises, after the Israeli army issued eviction orders to hundreds of Palestinian families, a number of Palestinians returned to their homes, but Al-Fakir and his family are unsure of when or if they will ever go back: ‘The army told us that even if the training exercise is over, we should not come back.
‘Here by the roadside, it’s hard for our animals to graze, but we are afraid to return and find that we have to move again,’ he added.
This displacement and others like it this year have left Palestinian families in the area reporting a ‘general environment of fear and uncertainty, particularly among children’.
According to OCHA most of the 5,000 Palestinians who live in designated firing zones across the West Bank are from Bedouin and herding communities,.
Palestinians living in firing zones are among the most vulnerable populations in the West Bank with little access to services such as health care and education, and no basic utilities like electricity and sanitation.
Even though residents in these areas are frequently issued with eviction and demolition orders because of ‘military operations’ many residents report that there is little or no military training in areas where they reside.
Where Palestinians have tried to construct homes and other necessary facilities they face constant opposition from the Israeli government.
The Israeli permit regime makes daily living in Area C even more difficult for Palestinians as they are required to apply for permits to construct structures like water cisterns, latrines and houses.
Permits are rarely granted, forcing Palestinians to forego them and risk demolition.
All these restrictions and layers of regulation make daily life in the Jordan Valley precarious.
Israel has carried out more demolitions in the Jordan Valley than anywhere else.
OCHA’s factsheet on Jordan Valley settlements says that in 2011 alone there were 200 demolitions of Palestinian structures, including homes, resulting in the displacement of 430 people.
In some instances, a building is demolished by the Israelis, rebuilt by Palestinians and then demolished again.
Israeli settlers on the other hand are given financial assistance by the Israeli government to encourage settlement expansion.
The Israeli settlement of Tomer, south of the Palestinian village of Fasayil, specialises in the production of dates.
The settlement has become ‘a flourishing community with a modern infrastructure, prosperous industries, and reliable social services’ as a result of ‘tax breaks, grants and other benefits’.
By contrast, Palestinian homes in Fasayil are made of tin, plastic and mud and the community has faced four waves of demolitions since January 2011.
There are 10 Israeli settler communities partially or completely in the firing zones of the West Bank, though they almost never face threats of demolition.
A strategy of control?
Many in the Jordan Valley see military exercises in firing zones as well as repeated house demolitions as an Israeli strategy to empty the land of Palestinians and confiscate it for further settlement expansion and agricultural production.
Fatima Abid Aouda Soraiya Fakir, one of the women displaced from the village of Al-Maitah said: ‘This is a mountainous area, with Israeli people scattered across the place.
‘Their purpose is to make us all leave so that they can take it for themselves.
‘They are afraid that we will become established here if we stay, like the village of al-Aqaba which now has schools and clinics.’
Al-Fakir, a Palestinian from Hamamat Al-Maleh, agrees: ‘The army wants everyone in this area to move.
‘It’s happening slowly and over time, but they definitely do not want us here.’
The Palestinians in Al-Maitah say that despite their recent experience, they are staying put.
Ahmad Eid Soraiya Fakir from Al-Maitah: ‘We are here now and we just want the Israelis to leave us alone.
‘We are willing to live in any condition if we have to, but we will not leave.’