The Jordan Valley has always captured the imagination of travellers and pilgrims who alluded to its biblical representation as lush, fertile land. And indeed, the area enjoys abundant water as a third of the West Bank underground aquifer lies beneath it. However, the unholy reality of the Jordan Valley is one of segregation and land-and-water resource apartheid. READ MORE
While illegal Jewish settlements dot the landscape with thriving date plantations and vineyards, Palestinian communities are struggling for shelter, drinking water and rudimentary healthcare and education. Running the length of the West Bank, the Jordan Valley covers almost 30% of the land with a total area of 2,400 square kilometers. Prior to the 1967 occupation, some 250,000 Palestinians lived there but, according to a recent survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, fewer than 65,000 remain today.
The Jordan Valley falls under total Israeli control, in accordance with the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement of 1995, known as the Oslo II Accord, classifying it as Area C. Under the Oslo Accords, powers and responsibilities related to zoning and planning in Area C should have been transferred to Palestinian control but that has not happened and Israel has made it clear that it intends illegally to annex the region and rid it of its Palestinian inhabitants.
For a viable Palestinian state to be established, the Jordan Valley represents an essential land reserve, agricultural hinterland and strategic economic infrastructure. Not only that, the area provides the potential state’s sole land entrance.
However, since its 1967 occupation, Israel has coveted the Jordan Valley both for its economical potential and for its strategic importance in forestalling a viable Palestinian state. It justifies its presence in the area as necessary for security – in his May speech to the US Congress, Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu asserted that in any final status agreement which may be reached with Palestinians, Israel would retain control over the Jordan Valley.
So in the last decades, and more so in the six years since its withdrawal from Gaza, Israel has colonized the area by establishing what it considers irreversible “facts on the ground” through settlements and military bases.
Some 25,000 of the remaining 65,000 Palestinians in the area live in Jericho, in what is essentially an open-air prison, hemmed in by checkpoints and barriers on all sides. The rest live in rural communities where their once abundant agricultural cornucopia has been desertified as nearly all water sources are reserved exclusively for the settlements.
Israel now controls over 90 percent of the Jordan valley through 36 settlements housing more than 9,000 settlers, as well as through closed military zones and declared nature reserves. Meanwhile house demolitions, forced evictions and property confiscations, exacerbated by settler violence and the economic effects of movement restrictions, have left Palestinian communities struggling to make a living.