I have just returned from the Jordan Valley – an area that takes up 30% of the West Bank but is almost entirely annexed by Israel. It’s the most fertile land in the West Bank with massive underground water reserves, yet the Israeli Army and settlements control 98% of this water and 95% of the land. Olmert has openly declared that he wants to annex the Jordan Valley and make it part of Israel. Once again, I am using my ‘privilege’ as an International. Palestinians are barred from going to this part of their country. To go there they have to fulfill one of three conditions:
1. They have to live in the Jordan Valley area, in which case they get a Jordan Valley ID – they are not allowed to move there so can only meet this condition if they already lived there before the restrictions were applied.
2. They work in one of the Israeli settlements – in which case the Settlement issues them with a temporary Permit to enter the area.
3. They are issued a DCO permit which has to be authorized by the Army.
We are lucky enough to have a host who lives here and has the right ID. There is a range of mountains between the Jordan Valley and the rest of the West bank, so to get there without passing through one of the many checkpoints you would have to walk over the mountains which takes at least 3 hours. This is also very dangerous as the Israeli Army uses the mountains for ‘exercises’ and they are littered with landmines.
Once we had made it through the checkpoints we drove down the highway, surrounded by settler plantations. We could see the neat white houses of the Israeli Settlements – there are 6,400 settlers in the Jordan Valley. We also saw the homes of the 52,000 Palestinians who still live here. These were in small villages of concrete houses, and others that look more like shantytowns, with houses put together with tin and plastic. This is not because they are poor – although they clearly are – it is because the Palestinians here are banned from building new houses, or even improving or repairing their existing homes. The villages have had all their land stolen from them, except for a few meager fields, and are surrounded by the settlements. There is no public transport here so we had to hire a taxi for the day – of course it had to be a taxi driver with an ID or permit that allowed him into this area.
We were very keen for the taxi to slow down, or stop, so we could take photos, but were told that the army and the settlers control these roads, and in a Palestinian car we were not allowed to stop. When we did persuade him to stop he immediately had to jump out, open the bonnet, and pretend he was filling up with water.
For everyone living here in the Jordan Valley: to exist IS to resist. There is very little health care, education is limited, there are no phone lines or public transport, and often there is no electricity. There are no Universities. If anyone moves out of the Jordan Valley so they can access these services more easily for their family, they will lose their Jordan Valley ID and their right to be here – every time somebody does this it is a small victory for Israel in it’s aim to remove all Palestinians from this area. Every Palestinian we met told us this.
We spent a day here, seeing houses that had been demolished, a school where they are taught in tents, farmers who are struggling to be able to overcome all the restriction Israel places on them so they can sell their produce and survive. We will write more about these soon.
At the end of the day we were in the village of Bardala in the north of the Jordan Valley, and wanted to go to Tubas, the nearest town which is just 20 km away. Our host would be able to make this journey be going through Tayasir checkpoint, and would get home within the hour if the checkpoint let him through. Without the checkpoint it would take him just 20 minutes. However, as internationals we cannot use this checkpoint.
The next best thing would be for us to stay in Jerusalem for the night. But our host is Palestinian and not resident in Jerusalem. He therefore can’t go into Jerusalem. He has the wrong ID.
We therefore set off on a 200km journey. We drove south down the highway towards Jericho. At Al Auja we turned towards the west to go over the mountains. Before long we were in a queue at a checkpoint out of the Jordan Valley. More showing of IDs and passports. We had a fairly uneventful journey as we traveled along many windy roads through the villages and Beir Zeit. Then, at Huwawa checkpoint, we had to get out of our taxi and walk through the checkpoint, but nobody needed to check our passports and IDs.
We got into another taxi, and I thought we were on our way to Tubas. Nothing is ever so simple here. A bit further down, over several very rough bits of road that had been dug up by the army, the taxi stopped. We were on a dark country road with no lighting but our Palestinian host got out of the car as if all was normal. In front of us blocking the road was a mound of soil about 8ft high. We clambered over it, slipping a bit but not getting hurt, walked down the road a bit further, and come to another mound just the same, but this time it was possible to follow a track around it. And there we found several taxis waiting for a fare as if this was the most normal thing in the world. We got a taxi, which, a few more meters down the road, very carefully drove over the tracks that had developed in yet another mound blocking the road, then, at last, onward to Tubas.
We have met a lot of people over the last two days and seen the reality of Israeli Apartheid that is being imposed on the Palestinian people. Despite this we have been welcomed by everybody, and offered more food, tea and coffee that it would ever be possible to consume.