Without fanfare, but with determination, Israel is systematically, militarily and economically squeezing Palestinians out of the Jordan Valley, expanding colonial Jewish settlement in the strategic area, reports the Palestine Media Centre (PMC).
A new Israeli poll revealed on Friday that Israelis overwhelmingly see the ‘Valley’ as more vital than the ‘Temple Mount’ (Islam’s third holiest site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound) in eastern Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967.
A poll conducted by Mina Tzemah, commissioned by the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs’ Defencible Borders Project and released last Friday revealed that Israelis are overwhelmingly opposed to returning key occupied areas, perceived as strategically important, like the Valley to the Palestinians.
Almost 80 per cent of 500 Israelis surveyed said that they opposed ‘conceding the Jordan Valley’.
In contrast, a slim majority, 53 per cent to 47 per cent, responded that as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, they would be willing to pass the ‘Temple Mount’ to international control, as long as Israel maintained control of the Western Wall.
A report published in October by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated that: ‘The Jordan Valley has become increasingly out of bounds for Palestinians living in other parts of the West Bank.’
The report was released before the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) imposed new regulations ‘at the Beka’ot checkpoint’, Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post has reported.
The IOF on October 13 prevented Palestinian agricultural produce from crossing the Beka’ot checkpoint into Israel, putting Palestinian farmers in debt and threatening their ability to farm their land next year, Palestinian Minister of Planning, Ghassan Khateeb, revealed last Thursday.
The IOF also closed military checkpoints west of the valley, barring entry to Palestinians not from the area. As a consequence, hundreds of Palestinian families from outside the valley are now squatting in tents inside the valley, so as to be able to stay at their jobs there, Khateeb added.
He said Israel is systematically squeezing the Palestinians out of the occupied valley.
‘Israel has been systematically making life difficult in the Jordan Valley in order to reduce the number of Palestinians living there,’ he said.
As usual, Israel cited ‘security’ as the reason for the new strangling regulations.
Ra’anan Gissin, spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon claimed: ‘This is not a policy. This is a security issue.’
He added that the banning of vegetables from crossing through the Beka’ot Cargo checkpoint is also for security reasons.
‘If the goods were being blocked for security reasons’, Khateeb asked, ‘why were they allowed to be transported the long distance to the Jalama checkpoint, north of the northern West Bank town of Jenin, via checkpoints for which special permission is granted?’
According to Israeli figures, 6,250 illegal Zionist settlers live in 21 Israeli colonial settlements among 53,000 Palestinians (including the population of Jericho). Recently, they were reinforced by the arrival of a group of colonists redeployed from the Gaza Strip.
For generations Palestinian villagers in the Valley have relied on manpower from the villages in the West Bank mountains above to cultivate and harvest the land. Illegal settler farmers also have relied on Palestinian labour since Israel occupied the Valley in 1967.
Israel is ‘strangling us’, Issa Mohammad, 45, who owns 165 dunams in Bardaleh, accused, adding that if the Israeli ban is maintained, ‘the farms won’t be able to pay for pesticides, seeds and plastic for greenhouses. Many of us won’t be able to sow our fields next year.’
Israeli entry restrictions have been in force since May. Only Palestinians with an address on their identification card from the north of the Jordan Valley are allowed to reside there. All others need special permission, which must be obtained through the IOF’s District Coordination Office.
Among those affected are Palestinian women born outside the valley but married into a family here, who say they are afraid to leave for fear they won’t be allowed to return.
One consequence, local Palestinians say, is that many Palestinians from the town of Tubas – a 22-kilometre drive from Bardaleh in the valley below – are now squatting in the valley’s villages.
Native Palestinians estimate that more than 1,000 such Palestinian families spend nine months of the year in plastic tents on the land so that they won’t be prevented from getting to work, with their children crowding the classrooms of local schools.
Jordan Valley Palestinians have held two protests at Beka’ot in the last month. Another is planned for this week.
‘While the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem destroys the urban centre of Palestine, the annexation and isolation of the Jordan Valley is depriving Palestinians of their land, water resources, agricultural and livestock production,’ wrote Jamal Juma, of the Palestinian grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign – stopthewall.org
Juma, on November 29, highlighted the fact that the Apartheid Wall Israel is building on occupied Palestinian land has an extension that separates the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank.
‘More than a year has passed since the Occupation Forces declared the completion of the first section of the Apartheid Wall, running from Jenin to Qalqiliya.
‘Rapid construction around Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron marks the second phase of the project. Meanwhile, away from public attention, the Occupation has begun the third phase of the Wall, which will annex and ethnically cleanse the Jordan Valley,’ he wrote.
In the south of the Valley, construction of the eastern Wall has begun near Eizzariya, an eastern neighbourhood of Jerusalem and will soon encircle Bethlehem and Hebron in the south from the east and cut the West Bank in two.
In November, reports the PMC, two of the four ‘terminals’ controlling Palestinian movement in and out of the area were closed to all Palestinians not residing there, thus completely isolating the northern areas of the Jordan Valley.
In the south, ‘flying checkpoints’ exclude Palestinians without residency permits recognised by the Occupation – including landowners.
The fertile Valley comprises over 28 per cent of the West Bank territory and provides access to the water reserves of the River Jordan.
The hilltops yield control over a significant portion of the West Bank, providing strategic locations for the effective siege of Palestinians.
Of the 2,400 square km of land in the Valley, 455.7 square km is considered ‘closed military areas’ by the IOF, 1655.5 square km will be controlled by Jewish settlements, and 243 square km has been confiscated by the IOF along the border with Jordan.
This leaves only 45 square km for Palestinians.
The two per cent of the Jordan Valley that remains for the Palestinians will consist of a ghetto around Jericho and a cluster of small, isolated villages without land – ‘in other words, the conditions for a catastrophic Palestinian exile’ warned Jamal Juma.
Racist Israeli occupation laws and a so-called ‘development’ scheme for the colonisation of the Jordan Valley create a horrible reality of expulsion and ghettoisation, added Juma, citing the ‘fenced-in roads, military zones, settlements, checkpoints, trenches and roadblocks’, which are contiguously deployed in a form that mirrors the cement walls enclosing Palestinians from the west.
Last week the Israeli Likud party’s new chairman Binyamin Netanyahu kicked off his campaign for a unified Likud by explicitly supporting ‘defencible borders for Israel’, which he said would include the Jordan Valley, the Golan Heights, an undivided Jerusalem, settlement blocs in the West Bank and the hilltops overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport, the Gush Dan region and Route 443.
In November, Lior Chorev, a top aide to Ariel Sharon, had lamented Israeli public support for retaining the Jordan Valley as ‘waning’.
Chorev told audiences at the College of Judea and Samaria (also built illegally on a colony in the West Bank) that, ‘If you don’t convince the public every morning that the Jordan Valley is important – and not because Yigal Alon said so 30 years ago or because of the theological perspective – we will lose the battle,’ Chorev warned.