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Opinion

In the Jordan Valley, existence is resistance

For Palestinians living amid increasing Israeli repression, simply staying put is a success in its own right.

Last updated: 29 Jul 2011 10:30
Jillian Kestler-D'Amours
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Bulldozers destroy a man-made reservoir as part of Israeli policy restricting Palestinian water usage [EPA]

The Israeli army destroyed water wells and confiscated water pumps in three separate Palestinian communities in the northern Jordan Valley on July 12. A few weeks earlier, Israeli military officers and police razed 29 homes in the Bedouin village of Hadidiya, leaving dozens of residents, including 11 children, without shelter in the scorching summer heat.

As this was happening, the Israeli government quietly announced its plan to double the size of illegal Israeli agricultural settlements in the Jordan Valley, which already use the vast majority of the area's water resources and land.

More specifically, the plan would give Israeli settlers living in the Jordan Valley access to an additional 54,000 dunums of land to cultivate - bringing their total to approximately 110,000 dunums - and up to 51 cubic metres of water (51,000 litres) annually. One dunum is equivalent to 1,000 square metres.

Already, Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley consume more water than in any other West Bank settlements, and approximately three times the daily household consumption of families living inside Israel itself. The dichotomy is even more severe when looking at some Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley, where water consumption is less than 40 per cent of the minimum level recommended by the World Health Organisation.

"This policy aims to make an ethnic cleansing from the Jordan Valley of the Palestinian people and replace them with newcomers, Jewish people from all over the world. This is a state policy," said Fathy Khdirat, a Palestinian resident of the Jordan Valley and Coordinator of the Jordan Valley Solidarity campaign.

"It's part of the Israeli occupation authority's policies, especially in the Jordan Valley, which started directly after the Israeli occupation [in 1967]. They started to control every drop of water in the Jordan Valley. They know that controlling water means controlling life," Khdirat said.

The unequal allocation and exploitation of water in the Jordan Valley is part and parcel of an overall Israeli policy of colonisation and control, which has manifested itself not only through Israel's command of natural resources, but through never-ending settlement expansion and restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, building and development.

In this context, the ability and resolve of Palestinians to remain in their homes and villages - despite Israeli control of every aspect of their daily lives - must be viewed as the main form of resistance today in the Jordan Valley.

Israel's 'line of defence'

Israeli leaders have promoted the idea that Israel must control the Jordan Valley for security reasons since the formulation of the Allon Plan in 1967, shortly after Israel began its occupation of the West Bank. Named after former Israeli Labour Minister Yigal Allon, the Allon Plan outlined Israel's intention to control virtually all of the Jordan Valley, including the outlying Jerusalem area, so as to serve as a buffer zone between Israel and the "Eastern Front".

In October 1995, when then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin presented the Knesset with the "Israeli- Palestinian Interim Agreement", or Oslo II, he affirmed this position by stating that "the security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term".

More recently, in March of this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on a tour of the region that "without Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, a truck will be able to travel freely from Iran to Petah Tikva".

"Israel's line of defence begins here," Netanyahu said. "If rockets and missiles break out here, they will reach Tel Aviv, Haifa and all over the state."

In his speech to the US Congress on May 24, Netanyahu also alluded to the Jordan Valley when he said 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.

In response to Netanyahu's statements, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said that without the Jordan Valley, no Palestinian state is possible.

Matrix of control

The Jordan Valley covers about 30 per cent 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 and administrative control. The Israeli planning authorities control all planning and construction in this area.

Due to the near impossibility of receiving building permits from the Israeli authorities in Area C, most Palestinians build without a permit and risk the demolition of their homes. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) documented that from January to May 2011, 131 Palestinian structures had been demolished across Area C, affecting almost 900 people.

B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre 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 of this year. It found that Israeli control of the Jordan Valley is maintained by its exploitation of four specific resources: land, water, tourist sites, and natural resources. The report states:

"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. 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."

Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley profoundly suffer under these myriad Israeli-imposed restrictions. Limits on freedom of movement and access to land and water, and the distance between communities and large Palestinian centres such as Jericho, have led to a systematic lack of employment opportunities and have made the local Palestinian agricultural sector flounder. Many Palestinians are therefore forced to work in Israeli settlements for extremely low wages and under dangerous conditions.

"The World Bank estimated that, if Israel were to permit Palestinians access to 50,000 more dunums of land in the Jordan Valley and to its water sources, they would be able to develop a modern agricultural industry, including food-manufacturing plants, that would generate about a billion dollars a year," the B'Tselem report stated.

Ultimately, B'Tselem found that: "Israel's exploitation of the area's resources to a greater extent than its exploitation in other sections of the West Bank indicates its intention: de facto annexation of the area."

Israeli policy fuels ignorance

Only six months after Israel began occupying the West Bank in 1967, it began building Jewish-only settlements in the Jordan Valley. At the same time, an estimated 100,000 Palestinians fled the area. Today, the Palestinian population of the Jordan Valley is about 64,450, spread throughout 29 communities, and a further 15,000 Bedouin live in dozens of small villages. Approximately 9,300 Israeli settlers also live in the area.

But this reality is not well-understood within Israeli society. According to a public opinion survey carried out by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) on May 31 and June 1 of this year, 64 per cent of Jewish-Israeli respondents didn't know that the Jordan Valley was an occupied territory. Eighty per cent of those surveyed also believed that Jewish Israelis made up the majority of residents in the Jordan Valley. ACRI found that:

"An interpretation of the survey concludes that the fact that Israelis wrongly believe that the Jordan Valley is part of the sovereign State of Israel, and is mostly occupied by Israelis, probably enhances the emotional support for the position that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has presented - that the Jordan Valley is essential for Israel's security."

Indeed, these survey results aren't surprising since they reflect official Israeli policy, which for decades has been that Israel must maintain sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. This is officially justified for security reasons but also has implicit economic motivations. In this context, the Israeli state has ensured that the fact that the Jordan Valley is an integral part of the West Bank - and thereby, like the rest of the Palestinian territory, is considered occupied - has fallen by the wayside.

Emptying the Jordan Valley

In the Jordan Valley, Israel is creating irreversible facts on the ground - as is the case throughout much of the rest of the West Bank - in an effort to cement its control over the land and its tremendous resources, which Israel has no intention of giving up. Israel's more sinister aim in the Jordan Valley is clearly to force Palestinians off their lands, a process that is facilitated due to the fact that much of the area is considered Area C and is under full Israeli control.

Still, for the past 40 years, the Palestinians of the Jordan Valley have resisted their forced displacement by remaining on their land. In essence, in this part of the West Bank, as in other areas that have been severely targeted by the Israeli occupation authorities like the South Hebron Hills, the most practised form of resistance has been simply to exist.

Fathy Khdirat, the Coordinator of the Jordan Valley Solidarity campaign, said:

"The existence of the Palestinian people in the Jordan Valley is a kind of resistance because Israel as a state was built on a big lie: a land without people for people without a land. In the Jordan Valley, they tried to make this [lie a reality] by creating facts on the ground and expelling the Palestinians from their land, from their villages. To exist is to resist in the Jordan Valley. Those people who manage to stay until now in the Jordan Valley, under this huge pressure from the occupation, I think it's a kind of resistance. To stay in the land is one of the most successful things."

Jillian Kestler-D'Amours is a Canadian freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. She regularly contributes to The Electronic Intifada, Inter-Press Service and Free Speech Radio News. More of her work can be found at http://jkdamours.com/

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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Al Jazeera
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