The Jordan Valley lies in the east of the West Bank and runs from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the Dead Sea in the south. Since the Six Day War in 1967, Israel strengthened its grip of the occupied area because of its great political, economic and geographical importance. The occupation meant the beginning of the colonization of the Jordan Valley, which has drastically increased since the second Intifada in 2000, when Israel focused on destroying more of the Jordan Valley’s infrastructure and increased restrictions on movement. It was in line with the 2004 development plan to colonize and separate the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank.
Fesayal in the Jordan Valley
The Jordan Valley is the second most popular tourist attraction in the region, second only to Jerusalem, and has over 80 historical and cultural sites. The salt and minerals found in the Dead Sea are unequalled by any other natural mineral sources and are used for cosmetics and spa therapies
For the Palestinians, the Jordan Valley is essential for having a viable state in terms of access, location and economic success. The border to Jordan is the only possible entrance and exit for a future Palestinian state. It is the only real option for movement and trade with the Arab countries and also the rest of the world. Jordan Valley’s abundance of water, fertile soil and minerals offer competitive economic advantages in agriculture, industry and tourism. Theses features are of course also the reason why Israel has maintained the occupation so forcefully in the area.
The first three Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley were built in 1968, the year after the occupation began. Israel has encouraged settlements in the Jordan Valley ever since, offering settlers free land, free houses, free education and healthcare and large discounts on electricity and transportation. Today there are 36 settlements in the Jordan Valley, accommodating more than 6200 settlers. Currently, settlements take up half of the area of the Jordan Valley and are using the area for agriculture primarily.
In 2003, then prime minister Ariel Sharon revealed plans for an eastern apartheid wall, isolating the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank. Without the Jordan Valley, only 54% of the West Bank will remain for Palestinians to live on.
In contrast to the Israelis, the Palestinians are only allowed to build in Jericho and five other small village areas. Any construction or even renovation outside of these areas is forbidden and will be demolished. Palestinian land is often confiscated on various grounds. It can be that the Palestinian land is too close to a settlement or a military base, or that the Palestinian land owner is deceased even though his heirs are alive, or that the land hasn’t been cultivated for three years because it was deemed a closed military zone. The confiscated land is then often handed over to settlers to cultivate.
Foundations of New School Building in Fesayal
In spite of its agriculture and tourist potential, as well as its water richness, the majority of the Palestinians in the Jordan Valley live under the poverty line, around 20% of them are unemployed and even in 2006, 53% of Jordan Valley Palestinians residents in Jericho and Tubas districts were food insecure.
Jordan Valley area provides 35% of the produce distributed to the Palestinians. This agricultural success is due to its location below lea level, likened to a greenhouse effect in the winter. Also the area is situated over Eastern Water Basin, which produces a great amount of wells and springs in the area.
However Israeli policies destroy agricultural activity, confiscating fertile land, controlling water resources and isolating Palestinian farmers from Arab markets. As a result of that, an increasing number of Palestinians work in the settlements, low-paid and without social security, medical care or labor rights.
The continued confiscation of agricultural land, the demolition and destruction of agricultural infrastructure, the prevention of building new wells or reconditioning the existing, or the prohibition for land owners without Jordan Valley residential address to cultivate their lands reduces the Palestinian production.
In the same way, the dependence on Israel production components such as fertilizers, seeds or irrigation networks, the dumping of the Palestinian market with Israeli goods produced in settlements, the high fines imposed to the shepherds who let their sheep cross an Israeli zone, or the isolation of the farmers from the Arab markets, as well as the limitation of their internal trade through numerous checkpoints and closures that delay the transport and damage the produce, all these procedures increased the farmer’s expenses dramatically while prices remain the same, which has decreased even the commerce across the Green Line in the Israeli markets.
On the other hand, Israeli water restrictions don’t only prohibit Palestinians from using 162 wells in the Jordan Valley, but also control where wells can be placed, how deep they can run and how much water can be pumped from them, which also means that quite a bit of settlement water seeps into Palestinian artesian wells and springs. Overall, settlers consume about 6 times more water than Palestinians.
Moreover, Palestinians are prevented from using the Jordan River or to access the water, minerals or shores from the Dead Sea, even though they should have control of 30% of it as their border. This prohibition, together with other occupation procedures such as the isolation of Jericho, the closure and destruction of some tourist sites, the prevention of Israeli drivers and tour guides from entering Palestinian areas or the cancellation of visits to Jericho from international tourist programs, inhibit tourism in the area.
Homes in Fasayel
Since 1967 Israel has prevented Palestinians from building new buildings or expanding existing buildings. Israel demolished many houses and also prohibited reconditioning or restructuring Palestinian houses built from mud and roofed with corrugated iron. The rate of demolitions increased dramatically in 2005.
Jordan Valley residents have also been subjected to several Israeli expulsions and killing policies. Between 1948 and 1967, the Palestinian population of the area reached 320.000. Currently, only 52,000 Palestinians permanently live in the Jordan Valley. Residential areas are concentrated in Jericho and 24 of its surrounding villages as well as dozens of Bedouin communities. These communities fall into three districts: Tubas, Nablus and Jericho.
The Palestinians communities in the Jordan Valley suffer from a severe shortage of basic services. Most communities, especially those located in area C (94.37% of the territories in this part of the country) are not connected to electricity, water, telephone or sewage networks in addition to lacking public transportation.
There are a few health clinics in the Jordan Valley, operated by the Palestinian Ministry of Health and civil organizations, but the clinic buildings are very old and poorly constructed. Israeli prohibitions also affect the construction or recondition of health clinics. Consequently health services never meet the needs of the population, particularly in emergency or critical situations when they need to reach hospitals in major cities and met new obstacles at checkpoints.
The lack of infrastructure and supplies also affects most of the 11,325 students of the Palestinian communities of the Jordan Valley. Most of the schools lack sufficient classrooms and Israel refuses to give permission to build new schools in most of the communities.
Finally, no sewage network is available for Palestinians living in Jordan Valley. Instead each household uses a private septic hole and the solid waste is either collected by municipal tractors, buried or burned.
Nevertheless, part of the land confiscated by Israelis for “security purposes” is being used to build a garbage dump for solid, industrial and chemical waste produced in Israel, located strategically according to the wind’s direction for avoiding the smell to the settlements. But the waste dumped there is extremely dangerous for the local environment, water resources and public health of nearby communities.
An example: Fasayel al Fouqa
Fasayel in the Foreground, Settlement in the Background
Fasayel al Faouqa, or Upper Fasayel, is a village in Area C with 839 inhabitants. It was denied electricity from Israel and didn’t receive it until 2006, with Belgian funding. Fasayel al Faouqa also lacks a water network and the inhabitants have to buy the drinking water in tanks. They also lack waste disposal, public transportation, sewage networks, internal roads, schools and health clinics. A total of 135 students have to walk 2 kilometers to reach the school in Fasayel al Tahta (Lower Fasayel) and the way there is blocked by a river in winter. The villagers are forbidden by Israel to build roads, their own school or any other house.
The typical worker of Fasayel al Faouqa works in one of the many settlements that completely surround the village. The father in one particular family was forced to stop working in a settlement because he lacked a special magnetic card, issued by the Israelis authorities. He applied for the card, but didn’t receive it until three month later, by which time someone else had got his job. He is now unemployed with wife and six children.
Despite the ban on house building, he and other villagers of Fasayel have started building a school. The building blocks are made from soil, water and hay and can be recycled in case of Israeli demolition. The building of the school is coordinated by stopthewall.org and was joined by internationals from ISM between August 12 and August 16. At present time, a third of the 2000 blocks needed are complete.
Main source of information: MA’AN Development Center & The Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (stopthewall.org)