Israeli land seizure and ethnic cleansing should be met with arrest warrants – not arms sales and diplomatic games.
The Jordan Valley, stretching all the way down the West Bank’s eastern side, is a microcosm of Israel’s discriminatory policies of colonisation and displacement. For 40 years, settlements have been established, military no-go areas declared, and Palestinians’ freedom of movement restricted. There are now 27 colonies in the Jordan Valley – most of them had been established by the late 1970s under Labour governments. There are also nine “unauthorised” outposts. In the 1990s, the size of territory afforded to the settlements increased by 45%.
As we watch yet another bout of periodic, though tempered, enthusiasm about “direct negotiations”, Israel is doing as much as possible to determine the Bantustan borders – policies exemplified in the Jordan Valley, a substantial area of the West Bank almost isolated from the rest of the occupied territories. In 2006, B’Tselem noted how the Israeli military “made a distinction between the ‘territory of Judea and Samaria’ (ie the West Bank) and ‘the Jordan Valley’, indicating that Israel does not view the two areas as a single territorial unit”.
While there are areas of the West Bank that have witnessed the removal of some checkpoints, according to a senior UN official in June, “it hasn’t improved at all when it comes to moving towards the east” and the Jordan Valley. Without a special permit, Palestinians who are not registered as Jordan Valley residents are prohibited from crossing the four key checkpoints controlling the area north of Jericho in their private vehicles.
The presence of the valley’s Palestinians is a “problem” that Israel approaches with the tools of evacuation orders and bulldozers. Amnesty International, among others, has noticed an intensification of home demolitions and evictions, while B’Tselem sees “the current wave” as “part of Israel’s ongoing efforts to remove” Bedouin Palestinians from the Jordan Valley. As Luisa Morgantini, former vice-president of the European parliament, put it recently, “an area cleansed of its inhabitants today is more easily annexed tomorrow”.
Israel’s strategic objectives mean disaster for the lives of Palestinians on the ground. Sitting next to his wife and children, Omar described to me a visit from the Israeli military to his community of al-Fasayil. “They arrived at 10 in the morning, with around a dozen jeeps and a bulldozer. They wanted to demolish everything immediately, and we were begging for a little time to get things out.”
Other people came running to help, he said, but the soldiers only allowed his two brothers-in-law to help him move out his animals and possessions. “We wanted to save the metal door but the soldiers said, ‘No, it is part of the demolition order’.”
In that particular raid, the Israeli army targeted one structure used for farming and storage. But not far away, other Palestinians last month were left to survey the damage after around 70 structures were demolished, displacing 100 Palestinians. When I visited two days later, all around were piles of debris: heaps of twisted metal, plastic fragments and broken pots and pans. In the words of one Oxfam official, the scene resembled the aftermath of “a natural disaster”.
This is a stark example of Israeli apartheid. Across the Jordan Valley, thriving Jewish settlements – whose very presence is illegal under international law – produce vegetables and fruits for export, their communities integrated into the main infrastructure and communications network of the Israeli state. Afforded generous “master plans” for development by the Israeli state, all around these settlements are Palestinians whose very livelihoods are threatened by the occupation.
Perhaps the main method of making normal life impossible for the Palestinians is to prevent “legal” construction. Back in April, Amnesty International cited an Israeli army spokesperson who said in 1999 that “our policy is not to approve building in Area C” (an Oslo Accords classification applying to almost all of the Jordan Valley). These restrictions, along with the settlements and the 44% designated as an Israeli “military area” or “nature reserve”, mean that “in almost the entirety of the Jordan Valley, Palestinian construction is prohibited“.
These are the realities that persuade many groups who work on the ground to draw disturbing conclusions about Israel’s objectives. Amnesty International has expressed its concern that the home demolitions are “part of a government strategy to remove the Palestinian population from the parts of the West Bank known as Area C”. B’Tselem suggested that Israel’s motive “is not based on military-security needs, but is political: the de facto annexation of the Jordan Valley”.
From the faces of Palestinian families picking over the ruined remains of their simple properties and the prospering Jewish settlements next door, to the declared intentions of leaders such as Binyamin Netanyahu, the Jordan Valley is Israeli rejectionism distilled. Land seizure and ethnic cleansing should be met with arrest warrants and sanctions, not arms sales and diplomatic games.
Governmental inaction makes it even more imperative for citizens to take action: through solidarity with Palestinians defending their community in the Jordan Valley to boycotting products and resisting corporate complicity in a regime of separation and inequality. Once more, the response of civil society shames our elected representatives.
Originally published in the Guardian.