The effects of Israeli military training in the Jordan Valley (by EA Peter)

Israeli military training in the Jordan Valley [Photo: JVSM]

Israeli military training in the Jordan Valley [Photo: Jordan Valley Solidarity]

The Jordan Valley takes up almost one third of the West Bank. 87% of this area is designated as Area C, meaning it is out of bounds for almost all Palestinian use. It is forbidden for farmers to grow crops or for herders to graze sheep. This is an issue as many of the 60,000 Palestinians who live in the Jordan Valley make their living in this way.

One reason why there have been such limitations on the use of the land is due to the Israeli military training which takes place on it. This training takes place in the winter and spring months and goes on for days on end. The most recent training which we witnessed started on April 28 and carried on until May 7. During this period, many Palestinian families faced forced evictions, the destruction of their farmland and even being caught in the crossfire.

Over coffee and sweet tea, as is the Palestinian custom, we sat with many families who spoke in great detail of how military training affects their lives. Whilst sitting with a herding community in Humsa, we heard how they received confirmation from the local council via the Israeli military that training would take place in their region from May 3. This gave them just under four days to pack up and move. Moving several shelters and a dozen or so families, around several hundred people, was not going to be an easy task. This meant they had no choice but to leave some of their livestock and property behind.

We heard similar stories of Catch 22 choices – either stay and be forcefully removed, or pack up and evacuate, leaving behind a livelihood. Many cultivated fields are destroyed through training either due to tanks driving over the crops or fires being started due to ammunition practise.

Tank tracks in a Palestinian field near Humsa [Photo: EAPPI.P.Hughes]

Tank tracks in a Palestinian field near Humsa [Photo: EAPPI/P.Hughes]

We spoke to Ahmed Salim Bin Oudi (Abu Ashraf) in Mak Hul about how the training affects his livelihood. Clasping his wheat, he told us that he had no choice but to begin to harvest his yield prematurely as he was concerned they would burn. Either way, he stood to fall short on his income.

Ahmed Salim Bin Oudi in Mak Hul, holding prematurely harvested wheat [Photo: EAPPI/Stacke]

Ahmed Salim Bin Oudi in Mak Hul, holding prematurely harvested wheat [Photo: EAPPI/Stacke]

Tariq Abu Oum in Furush Beit Dajan was concerned that his property would be looted or demolished if he were to leave. After evacuating his wife and nine children, he stayed behind to watch over his fields and property.

At 2am, the Israeli army arrived to force him out so he went to stay with his family. When he returned the following evening, he realised his electricity had been cut. Despite this, he was determined to stay.

When we spoke to the Abu Oum family, they had just returned to their property and Tariq was cleaning up the fields which were covered in gigantic tyre marks. His lasting fear is not only of a new wave of training being announced but also that there may be unexploded ordinances scattered across the land.

Tariq Abu Oum outside his house in Furush Beit Dajan [Photo: EAPPI/P. Hughes]

Tariq Abu Oum outside his house in Furush Beit Dajan [Photo: EAPPI/P. Hughes]

This continual uprooting can have lasting effects. Many children are either too scared or too far away to attend school during the training. Teachers we have spoken with say that during training children miss up to 10 days of school. This training occurs several times a year meaning many children can miss around 30 days in 200 of school per year.

Many of the communities which return to find their fields on fire face no choice but to extinguish them with the limited water supply which they buy off the Israeli state. During the temporary evacuation periods, it becomes difficult to adequately feed the animals and to milk them. This causes a loss of revenue and harms the animals’ health.

Not only are the Israeli authorities committing several human rights violations concerning the right to livelihood of an occupied population, they are also disregarding the boundaries of the three areas of the West Bank that were drawn up as part of the Oslo Accords (and only ever meant to be temporary) – these are Area A (which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority), Area B (which is controlled jointly by Israel and the Palestinian Authority) and Area C (which is controlled by Israel). In our first week as EAs we came across the Israeli military establishing a flying check point within the boundaries of Jericho, a Palestinian city well within Area A. Similar incursions have happened many times since, especially in the run up to military training.

The Israeli authorities would argue this training is part of the right to protect the state of Israel. However when the training begins, it is only the Palestinian population of the Jordan Valley that is forced to leave their homes and fields whilst the 10,000 or so settlers can remain at home and cultivate the land. The perpetual presence of the Israeli military and destruction of livelihoods is used as an intimidation method to force Palestinians off the land.

Despite this, changes have been noticed. In discussions with Tawfiq Haj Mohammad, a local headmaster and Mayor of Furush Beit Dajan, he stated, “Since internationals have come here to highlight the problems with the training, the Israeli authorities have taken more care not to destroy crops.”

This is proof that Israel is not only aware that the training techniques do not take the livelihoods of Palestinians into consideration but also that it cares about its international image. This shows the strength the international community can possess to call for an end to the occupation of Palestine.