I was convinced by a friend to take a trip to the Jordan Valley this week. This is my fourth trip to Palestine but I have never visited the region and have heard relatively little about it. This is symptomatic of the condition of the valley, it is largely forgotten by the international community and is rarely visited. This isolation serves the Israeli state’s aim of annexation and ethnic cleansing of the valley.
I travelled to the Jordan valley from Ramallah. Ramallah’s cosmopolitan atmosphere contrasts starkly to the rural isolation of the valley just 45 minutes away. The valley is impossible for most Palestinians to travel to. Only Palestinians who were born in and live in the valley have ID to travel through the checkpoint. Others must apply for a permit from the army local administration (DCO). One of my Palestinian travelling companions, a worker with a local NGO, was detained at the checkpoint at the entrance to the valley while soldiers checked her permit.
As we drove through the valley toward Al Jiftlik we saw neatly cultivated fields on either side of the road, thousands of Dunums of palm trees and commercial crops like tomatoes, peppers and herbs. Scores of greenhouses stretched along the road past the illegal settlement of Mekhora. Many of the greenhouses were neighbored by packing houses owned by Carmel Agrexco.
Carmel Agrexco (www.agrexco.com) is a 75% Israeli state owned company dealing with 70% of the exports of settler fresh produce from the West Bank. A majority of their goods come from the Jordan Valley. They are able to transport their produce from packing houses in the valley to European markets within 24 hours and have distribution depots in most countries in Europe. They distribute their produce to most major supermarket chains in the UK, but like the Jordan Valley their name is not widely known.
The price of a box of tomatoes bought from the Carmel Agrexco is the suffering of the Palestinian population of the Jordan Valley. From 1967 Israel has sought to establish settlements in the valley and deprive the Palestinians of access to the land. In 2006 6 400 settlers live in 13 illegal settlements in the valley and 52 000 Palestinians. 95% of the land is controlled by the settlers who also control 98% of the water. Palestinians live in 36 villages which are not permitted to expand. In the Israeli controlled areas the building of new structures is not permitted and repairs on existing structures are also forbidden. These building regulations are enforced by demolitions of structures which the IDF deem ‘illegal’.
Agriculture in the valley is being strangled by the expansion of settlements and by the fact that all Palestinian produce grown in the valley must go through Tayasir checkpoint to reach markets in the rest of Palestine. Farmers must pay middlemen to take their produce to the checkpoint, be subjected to humiliating searches by the IDF, transfer the goods to another vehicle on the other side of the checkpoint before driving it to the market. This whole process takes around eight hours or more and drives down profits for farmers making farming barely financially viable. The only other alternative is to work as an uncontracted, casual day labourer on one of the illegal settlements for, on average, 40-50 shekels a day on land stolen from Palestinians.
Carmel Agrexco gave disclosure in a UK court case to the effect that they have packing houses in the illegal Israeli settlements of Mekhora, Mehola, Argaman, Ro’I, Hamra, Gaddid and Bet Ha Arava in the Jordan Valley. These settlement are making a fortune out of the suffering of the local Palestinian population. An international campaign is needed to challenge Carmel Agrexco and show that the international community will not accept the ethnic cleansing of the Valley