by Peter, January 25th
Recently, I was able to accompany three Palestinians on a drive through the Jordan Valley. The more scenic aspects aside, a trip through the area revealed the slow, destructive siege of the Valley.
Movement restrictions have effectively sealed off the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank. For example, the north of the Jordan Valley in the Tubas region (a two hour drive at minimum from Ramallah) should be 15 minutes from Nablus. However, the Occupation has restricted Palestinian access to this area to those registered in the villages of the Valley; to reach the northern West Bank from the north of the Valley without Jordan Valley ID one must travel down to Ramallah before heading north. This effectively makes what should be a short trip into a day of driving, 8 hours being a conservative estimate, accompanied by an equivalent rise in the cost of petrol. To put things in a more concrete perspective, our own trip from Ramallah to the north of the Valley and back cost around NIS 150 in petrol.
Additionally, harassment of Palestinians at the hands of soldiers and police occurs on a regular basis. “Heightened surveillance” signs mark much of the highway running from Jericho to the the north. Palestinians will be pulled over for driving too quickly (or too slowly) and detained under a number of pretexts. Not only does this further restrict movement, but also it often proves to be very expensive. On our drive, we were pulled over by Occupation police. After being detained for a half hour, we were issued a fine of NIS 250 for not “driving quietly” and failing to wear seatbelts. The driver of our vehicle informed the police that we were in fact all wearing our seatbelts (“driving quietly” is a bit harder to contest, as it makes little logical sense), but this complaint was ignored. Instead, the police informed us that they were in fact exercising restraint; in their benevolence they had only fined us NIS 250 as opposed to a more drastic fine of NIS 1000.
Thus, a day drive into the Jordan Valley cost NIS 400. Compare this with the average income of a family in the valley (NIS 1000 per month), and it should become quite clear that movement is financially impossible for most of the Palestinians trapped in the valley.