Jordan Valley covers around 28.5% of the West Bank and is rich in land and water resources, making it conducive for agriculture and animal husbandry. Even though there are 56,000 Palestinians and about 9,400 Israeli settlers living in the area, only around 5% of the Jordan Valley is under full or civilian Palestinian control. The rest, 95% of the Valley is designated Area C, which under the Oslo agreement is under full Israeli control. What this means is that agricultural and grazing land is not accessible to Palestinians, the result of which is that 60% of the Palestinians in the Jordan Valley live under the poverty line (2009).
While the 9,400 Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley cultivate 33,000 dunams of land with intense government assistance and turn in around $133 million in revenue, 98.3% of Palestinian farmers have lost production capacity due to Israeli restrictions in the Jordan Valley. Further, limited access to Area C (most of which is in the Jordan Valley) costs the Palestinian economy around $480 million per year and is responsible for the unemployment of 110,000 Palestinians.
Expansion of Jewish Settlements and demolition of Palestinian villages
The Jordan Valley fell in the hands of Israel as a result of the 1967 war. After its occupation in 1967 for “security” reasons, providing an eastern security buffer zone, Israel started encouraging young couples to off-start agricultural and tourism industries in the area. In the process of doing so illegally under international law, it also evicted around 70,000 – 300,000 Palestinians to other areas in the West Bank to make way for the agricultural settlers.
Despite its significance for Palestinians who would depend on the Jordan Valley for its land and water resources, as well as access to the wider world though Jordan, if a Palestinian state is to come into effect, Israel would take control of much of the land and consider it “priority area” as a result of which Israeli settlements are entitled to government subsidies. When the first settlement in the Jordan Valley – Mehola - was constructed in 1968, it was to implement the “Alon” plan which aimed at altering the Arab – Jewish demographic dynamics by encouraging Jewish settlements in sparsely populated Palestinian areas.
Currently, there are around 36 settlements and outposts with a population of 9,400 settlers. As part of the incentives to encourage people to move to these “priority areas”, settlers in the Jordan Valley are offered 70 dunams of land, have extended tax breaks, receive housing subsidies and mortgage plans, and get discount on water, electricity and other utilities.
While this is the life of Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley, thousands of Palestinians of the Jordan valley live in a dire situation. Those who live in Area C of the Jordan Valley – which covers 95% of the Jordan Valley are unable to cultivate their land, drill wells, build permanent structures including health centers and schools, do not have access to water or electricity and are under constant threat of being evicted from their land. 90% of all demolitions in the occupied West Bank were in the Jordan Valley (2012). Data from Save the Children in 2009 indicated that 31 of the surveyed households in the Jordan Valley had been temporarily or permanently displaced at least once since 2000 as a result of Israeli military orders and house demolitions. According to UNRWA, 2,033 of the 4,175 Palestinians who were displaced in 2011 were children.
While Israel demolishes houses and structures “built without a permit”, it refuses to issue permits to Palestinians who apply for them. From 2000 – 2007, only six percent of permit applications were granted. During the same period, Israel demolished 1,663 Palestinian structures including schools and clinics in the Jordan Valley have been demolished.
The Jordan Valley has the richest water resources in the whole of the West Bank. Though the Dead Sea, Jordan River and other springs would have provided sufficient water for Palestinians in the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank, Israel controls most of the water resources in the area and Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, especially those in Area C of the Valley suffer from water inaccessibility.
From 1967 onwards, Palestinians are only allowed 40% of the water in the Eastern Water Basin in which the Jordan Valley is situated, and they do not get any water from the Jordan River from which they demand 200 million m3.. Further, Israeli, Syrian and Jordanian water installations have reduced the water flow of the Jordan River by 98% compared to its potential in the 40s. The water level in the Dead Sea is also dropping by one meter a year.
The 44million m3 of water/year Israel allocates to its Jordan Valley and Northern Dead settlers of about 9,400 is one-third of the total amount of water that is accessible to the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. While settlements consume 487 liters/person/day, most Palestinians in the Jordan Valley get 40% less than the WHO recommended minimum of 100 liters/day. This figure is alarmingly small in some Bedouin communities in the area which get less than 20 liters/day which is only comparable to the water situation in disaster areas such as refugee camps in Darfur and Haiti after the earthquake.
Since 1967, Israel has strictly prevented drilling of Palestinian wells and has destroyed 140 Palestinian water pumps while confiscating another 162 agricultural water projects. As a result, only 37% of Palestinians in the Jordan Valley are connected to water while the rest need to buy their water in tanks from an Israeli water company, Mekerot. They have to buy their water in tanks that cost from 14 – 37.5NIS/m3 while the normal price for water from a water network runs at 2.6 NIS/m3. This has resulted in some households spending around 40% of their income on water.
Most affected by the Israeli policy of segregation, deprivation and limit on freedom of movement are the Bedouins of the Jordan Valley who number around 15,000. The Bedouins are mostly cattle herders and semi cattle herders who move from place to place looking for pasture and water for their herd. The abundance of such resources in the Jordan Valley made it an attractive place for them to reside. Most are refugees from the 1948 war from what is now southern Israel. Before being displaced to the Jordan Valley, some of these communities had settled in southern Hebron hills, in the West Bank, from which they were displaced for “security reasons” following the 1967 war. Since most of these people are refugees and don’t have deeds to the land they live on, they are under constant threat of being evicted. Most live in Area C of the Valley where they are not allowed to build permanent structures including homes and schools. As a result they live in tents and tent like structures herding their cattle in very limited plots of land that are accessible to them.
Most of the Bedouins in the Jordan Valley live without infrastructure and services such as water, electricity, transportation, health services etc. They are the ones who suffer the most from water scarcity in the area due to their low income and demand for grazing land and water for their herds. Because they cannot drill water wells and the Israeli agricultural settlements take water away from the available natural springs they counted on for years, they don’t have water for most of the year and have to buy it. They buy their water in tanks from an Israeli company at a rate of 20-38 NIS/cubic meter and bring it in a tractor. Due to the expenses as well as the limited access involved in getting water, most villages have only 30-36 liters of water per person per day. This is 30% less than what is recommended but the World Health Organization.
Lack of access to land and water being the primary reasons, 79% of the Bedouins in Area C are food insecure. 93% of the children consume less than the recommended number of meals, 15% are underweight and nearly one third have stunted growth. Such severe economic situation and lack of educational facilities has forced Palestinians even children to seek employment in Israeli settlements.
Agriculture and unemployment
What makes settlements in the Jordan Valley different from settlements elsewhere in the West Bank is that they are mostly agricultural or economic related. Most of the settlers own farms or related factories and are there for economic incentives the place and the Israeli government offer rather than for Ideological reasons. Even though the Jordan Valley constitutes much of the agricultural wealth of Palestinians, 60,000 dunams of agricultural land is unavailable to Palestinians in the Jordan Valley.
42% of the Jordan Valley Palestinian population depends on agriculture or animal husbandry. However, Israeli control over land and water has severely limited the production capacity of the Palestinian economy and has led to food insufficiency in the Jordan Valley. Many farmers in the Jordan Valley now rely on weather conditions and risk high loss during dry seasons while Israeli settlers enjoy a sustainable water supply and have over 13 times more irrigated land. According to the World Bank, better access to water can improve Palestinian agricultural revenue by 10%. .
Further, about 98.3% of Palestinian farmers in the area have lost their production capacity due to Israeli restrictions including restrictions on movement. Since 2006, Israel has placed 17 roadblocks and checkpoints in the Jordan Valley area, limiting access only to those who reside in the area. The checkpoints also limit the Palestinian agricultural produce that can reach Palestinian markets and add costs to transporting Palestinian goods to Israeli or Palestinian markets. Considering the nature of the goods (agricultural), delays in the checkpoints and back-to back operations where goods are moved from one truck to another affects the quality and amount that can finally reach its destination.
Currently, agriculture in the Jordan Valley contributes 15% to the formal work force of the West Bank. Unable to farm or raise their own cattle, and out of other economic options, about 10,000 – 20,000 Palestinians work in agricultural settlements in the Jordan Valley. Even if civilian Israeli law is applicable in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, it’s not enforced when it comes to Palestinian laborers in these settlements. Often times, Palestinian workers are not paid the Israeli minimum wage and are not formally registered hence do not benefit from Israeli labor laws or rights. The daily wage for Palestinians runs as low as 60-100 NIS/day, which is two or three times less than the daily wage in Israel proper, while Thai and other foreign laborers receive the standard Israeli wage of around 200 – 250 NIS and are entitled to Israeli labor rights and benefits.
Moreover, about 5.5% of the Palestinian workers in the farms are children as young as 13 years old. The Palestinian children who work in these agricultural settlements work in secret and are not formally registered hence are not insured and their work environment may not comply with international or Israeli health and safety regulations.
For the eight hour work they do usually from 6am – 2pm, they get about 40-60 NIS/day. But for most of these children, going to school is not a viable option due to the expenses, distance, hassle (checkpoints) and lack of facilities (school infrastructure, lack of teachers), that are associated with it. In addition, most carry the burden of supporting their families who are in dire economic circumstances. Employing child labor is prohibited not only in international labor law but is also illegal under Israeli law. But the greater crime is probably the poverty under which these children live and which has forced them to work instead of going to school. As the occupying entity, Israel is fully responsible for ensuring the well being of the population it occupies and for enforcing international human rights and relevant treaties.
Maan Development Center: