(A short journey through the ethically cleansed landscape of the Jordan Valley)
16th November, 2012
The one day trip was organised by the Jenin Freedom Theatre Bus Tour and is a snapshot of what happens in the Jordan Valley. It focusses on water rather than land confiscation. Full reports can be found in the references below.
A brief overview of the area
The Jordan Valley comprises 30% of Palestinian territory and approximately 87% of it is in Area C – meaning that Israel has full administrative control. In 1967, 360,000 Palestinians, mainly Bedouin, lived in the Jordan Valley now less than 60,000 live here, the majority in Jericho, a large urban area.
How has this happened? – by the stealth of creeping ethnic cleansing.
The Jordan Valley is considered to be Palestine’s bread basket. Since 1967, Israel has implemented: the confiscation of its fertile land; closed military and firing zones; movement and building restrictions; demolition of farms and dwellings; control of Palestinian access to local, Arab and world markets. At the same time Israeli governments have encouraged, with subsidies, Jewish couples to colonise the area and there are now 35 settlements and 7 outposts on confiscated Palestinian land – a total 97% of the valley is off limits for the Palestinians for cultivation.
As we travel along the highway 90 there is plenty to see of intensive settler farming and the packaging units that will distribute fruit, especially bananas, directly to Europe. The profits accrued from this intensive farming and the profits from it are sourced from stolen water, a $114 million industry in 2010. The Veolia controlled land fill site is also spotted! – for settlement waste only! The Palestinians are forbidden to develop solid waste dumps or sewage treatment of their own.
This has been a key factor in the ethnic cleansing in the Valley. By depriving the indigenous population the means to cultivate crops and provide water for their livestock communities have been economically squeezed out of the region.
Since 1995, as the Oslo Accord was not clear about water allocation, Mekorot, the government controlled Israeli water company, have been in charge of water distribution. (The situation is more complex than this explanation, please use a reference!)
Needless to say the water is pumped to the settlements, for intensive irrigation use and Palestinians are forced to buy their rationed supply at inflated prices. The herders store water in tanks that are frequently confiscated by the army. Permits to dig news wells or renovate old ones are never issued.
According to a 2009 Save the Children factsheet 9,400 Israeli settlers consume 6.6 times more water than the 56,000 Palestinian residents in the Jordan Valley.
The Israeli army have destroyed 162 water projects along highway 90
Stopping at Al ‘Auja spring, Israeli water theft is clearly depicted in the photo….side by side there is the heavily secured Israeli pumping system and the original, destroyed water pump, existing from Ottoman times.
Also spotted as we speed past, is the land fill site operated by Veolia – only for settler rubbish!!! Also the settlements do not control sewage leakage and so cause pollution in springs and underground water.
We visit Al Hadidya – a community completely surrounded by the Roi settlement and settlement agriculture/industry. Al Sharat, community spokesman, gave us a vivid account; out of the original 35 communities In Al Hadidya only 14 survive. He said ‘We will not leave our land’. But how long can they hold out? They suffer army harassment:
– damage to their property
– aggressive attacks and detention of the shepherds
– restricted access to their land for grazing
-being in a firing zone, now Austere Challenge (US/IOF combined military exercises) have tank manoeuvres taking place in front of their fragile settlements. We saw extensive track marks in numerous places.
(In the map, the dark maroon is the built up settlement, the maroon dots indicate settlement agriculture/industrial units, the dark grey is a Military Base, the blue is Area C and the dotted blue closed military zones)
The Jenin Freedom Theatre hold a Plackback Session where villagers tell their stories and these are reenacted by the performers, mainly using mime and with some musical effects. They are really moving and the gathered crowd is engrossed. But before this happens the Army visit us, demanding to know what we are doing and stating that the settlers have to give permission for us to have lunch! Al Sharat says that we will eat with or without it and we do. The army jeeps eventually leave – did they get the permission?
It was a informative, moving day and as we leave a herd of sheep are shepherded over the hills – an almost biblical scene …. surely more appropriate to the Holy Land than intensive farming and depletion of the natural resources!
Lastly, we visit the mud brick house and workshop of the Jordan Valley Solidarity – a project aimed at providing more substantial housing for the Valley inhabitants ….run by Palestinians but anyone can volunteer to make the bricks!
Water is a human right
In a 2010 resolution, the UN General Assembly recognised “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life.” Also in 2010, the UN Human Rights Council recognised the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation as “derived from the right to an adequate standard of living” and “inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity.”
www.amnesty.org – Troubled Waters
www.oxfam.org – On the Brink – well worth a read.