Jordan Valley: the hidden occupation – part 1 (by EA Peter)

After becoming an EA, I found out I would be based in the Jordan Valley, using Jericho as a base to visit Palestinian communities across the region. I also met my team mates with whom I would live and work over the coming months. We are small team of four consisting of myself and three women – one of my age from Sweden and two of a similar age to my parents from Switzerland and Finland.

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[Credit: EAPPI/M. Stacke]

The Jordan Valley is a new project for EAPPI. I am part of the fourth team to cover the area and the issues faced are complex, vast and not widely known.

The Jordan Valley lies to the east of the West Bank, along the border with Jordan. It is 2,400 km2 and constitutes 28.8% of the West Bank making it the least populated area and home to 60,000 Palestinians. Before the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, the population of the Jordan Valley was estimated at 200,000-320,000 people. 15,000 people live in Area C, 7,900 of whom are Bedouin and herders scattered across the Jordan Valley.

Following the Oslo agreement, the West Bank was divided in to Areas A (17.2%), B (23.8%) and C (59%). This was to allow for the Israeli government to gradually transfer land to Palestinian control but that has not taken effect.

Area A is under complete control of the Palestinian Authority and Area B is shared – the Palestinian Authority is responsible for services (like water and schools) but Israel is responsible for security. Area C is under the complete control of Israel and Palestinians have limited rights to use of land. 87% of the Jordan Valley is designated as Area C.

The Jordan Valley is of great economic importance to both Israel and Palestine. As it makes up a third of the West Bank, it is a vital land mass for Palestine to make a viable state. It is also seen as the breadbasket for both countries with its fertile soil and warm climate.

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[Credit: EAPPI/P. Hughes]

For Israel, it is a core part of the country’s agricultural production attracting settler communities since 1967, many of which are farming on an industrial scale. This area is seen as important for security by acting a buffer zone against neighbouring states. Given its large open spaces, it is also used for Israeli military training.

Some 9,400 Israeli settlers illegally live in the Jordan Valley across 37 settlements, including seven outposts. These are small built-up areas consisting of 0.5%. But the land around the settlements – and owned by them – dedicated to farming and municipal boundaries make up 15%. Many Palestinians are employed on the settlements but they have limited workers’ rights.

Approximately 30% of the West Bank is a closed military zone which is closed off permanently to Palestinians and designated for Israeli military use. 18% of this is a ‘firing zone’ meaning the Israeli army regularly practice in these areas. This is roughly the same amount of the West Bank under full Palestinian authority (Area A). Most of these military zones lie within the Jordan Valley, with 56% of the land designated for military purposes.

In addition to this, 20% of the Jordan Valley is designated as Israeli nature reserves which includes the Dead Sea and parts close to the Jordan River. These areas boast part of Israel’s tourism industry for beach-goers, hikers and pilgrims. Many hostels and tours are run by the settlements. There are also several Israeli factories which extract minerals from the Dead Sea for use in construction, fertilizers and cosmetics.

According to the UN, 94% (counting overlap) of the total area of the Jordan Valley is off limits for Palestinian development, including residential or community use. Due to the inability to obtain building permits from the Israeli Civil Administration, many Palestinian communities lack the right to the development of housing and basic service infrastructures, such as schools, roads or water networks. Many communities face the demolition of existing property. They also face restriction of movement and access to grazing and agricultural areas due to checkpoints and road blocks. This method, along with other means such as water diversion and forced displacement, are used in an attempt to remove Palestinians from Area C to free up land for Israeli settlement use. These methods are in breach of International Humanitarian Law and in breach of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention concerning the treatment of protected persons under occupation.

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[Credit: EAPPI/M. Stacke]

Over the coming months I will be collecting and sharing the stories of individuals and families affected by Israeli government policy in the Jordan Valley and giving some suggestions of actions that you might like to take in response.

Read Peter’s second blog here – Jordan Valley: the hidden occupation – part 2