Annexing The Jordan Valley

IssueMarch 2009
Feature by Sarah Cobham

As Israel commits brutal war crimes in Gaza, it also continues to covet the land of Palestinians living in the West Bank. The 790km-long apartheid wall snakes through the occupied West Bank annexing Palestinian land to Israel.

Israel is also progressing with the annexation of the entire eastern section of the West Bank, known as the Jordan Valley, the most fertile region of the West Bank, which constitutes a further 28.5% of the land inside the 1967 green line.

Israel already controls 94% of the land in the valley. 44% of land is controlled directly by the Israeli Army. The other 50% is occupied by 35 illegal Israeli settlements which farm this stolen land on an industrial scale, growing fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers for export to Europe by companies like Carmel Agrexco.

Sometimes the Israeli army confiscates land and declares it a “Closed Military Zone”, then passes it on to the settlements at a later date. Sometimes Israelis from one of the illegal settlements threaten Palestinians and steal the land directly from them.

In other instances, the settlers and army collectively harass and intimidate Palestinian farmers until they leave the land around the settlements unused – making it easier to confiscate.

For example, Israelis from Masu’a settlement stole land from the Palestinian sheep farmers of Abel al Adjaj in 2004 – enough land to erect a row of around 20 massive greenhouses. In July 2008, they returned, put a gun to the head of a village elder named Shahdi, and took yet more of his land. The Israeli Civil Military Administration lent support by issuing demolition orders on the home of Shahdi and many other families in the area.

Al Farisiya

In Al Farisiya a farmer named Jassir had his water pipes cut by the Israeli army and the land around his natural springs confiscated. Demolition orders have been issued on most of the buildings in his village.

Jassir’s response to this is: “The Israelis want to extend the settlements and take the land. I won’t allow them to farm the land of my grandfather: we have lived here for generations…. When the Israelis come I will refuse to go. This is my way of earning a living, I don’t have any other way of life”.

Despite constant threat and intimidation by the Israeli occupying forces many Palestinian communities are steadfast in their determination to remain on the land of their ancestors.

School of resistance

In the summer of 2007 the Popular Committee of Fasayil Fouqa started to build the first and only primary school in their village in the heart of the Jordan Valley, supported by Jordan Valley Solidarity and Brighton-Tubas Friendship and Solidarity Group.

The project aimed to resolve the grave educational crisis affecting Fasayil and many other communities in the Jordan Valley, caused by military restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation forces.

In defiance of the Israeli occupation’s complete ban on construction, the shell of the new school was completed in September, built out of mud bricks using traditional building techniques. On 17 October, the Israeli “Military Civil Administration” issued an injunction demanding that building work stop and community apply for a permit by 29 November. As with all such injunctions, failure to do so would result in the school being demolished.

But villagers were defiant. One of them saying: “They can knock our school down as often as they want. We cannot stop them from doing so. We will build the school again and again and again. They cannot destroy our determination to give proper education to our children. Our children’s education is our future! They will not succeed in their attempts to drive us from our land.”

An international petition, translated into five languages, was launched against the demolition gathering tens of thousands of signatures. Letters were written to the Israeli Military Civil Administration and to foreign governments, demonstrations were held in several countries. This solidarity paid off: in an interview with the Independent, Zidki Maman of the Military Civil Administration was eventually forced to admit that the army would consider “humanitarian concerns” before demolishing the school. No more was heard from the Israeli authorities.

The Palestinian villagers had won! The school has now been rebuilt in concrete, and extended so that it now has seven classrooms and 77 students. In May 2008 the Israeli government agreed to a “master plan” for Fasayil and another 14 Palestinian villages would “facilitate developing, building and upgrading of schools, clinics, and other facilities within these villages”. Ironically the people of Fasayil have never been informed of this decision and there is still no sign of it being implemented. It does not represent any change to Israel’s overall plan to ethnically cleanse the Jordan Valley of Palestinians and annex it to the state of Israel.

Fasayil is just one village in the Jordan Valley where local Palestinians have directly challenged their right to live there by collective building projects. They were preceded by Al Jiftlik Upper School which was constructed of tents in 2005 and is now a modern two-storey building that was built with funding from Europe. Fasayil is now planning to build a Health Clinic, Al Jiftlik village is planning to rebuild 15 demolished houses and Al Auja bedouin community is planning their own school. They are all working with Jordan Valley Solidarity which brings communities together and connects them with international groups that want to work in friendship and solidarity to challenge the Israeli state’s intention to annex the land and ethnically cleanse it of Palestinians.

In October and November 2008, members of Brighton-Tubas Friendship and Solidarity Group travelled to the Jordan Valley in Palestine. They visited 14 Palestinian villages and interviewed the local people there. In April 2009 they will be publishing a report of their interviews titled Ethnic Cleansing and Settlement Expansion in Palestine cataloguing information from each of the villages they visited. This will coincide with a Europe-wide tour of community leaders from the Jordan Valley.