Clearing the Jordan Valley of Palestinians
Down the Explusion Highway
By AMIRA HASS
02/15/06 "Ha'aretz" -- -- Someone who apparently had an
especially sarcastic sense of humor decided to officially name
the Jordan Valley Road, Route 90, the "Gandhi Road." The
reference is not to Mahatma Gandhi, but to Rehavam Ze'evi, who
advocated "transfer"--the expulsion of the Palestinians from
their land. Perhaps he understood that this was indeed the
appropriate name for the eastern road. For not only on this
road, but throughout the enormous and beautiful expanse of the
Jordan Valley and the eastern slopes of the hills, there is an
oppressive sense of absence, loss, and emptiness.
The Palestinians have disappeared from the valley, aside from a
few thousand who live there plus some to whom Israel agrees to
give daily entrance permits for various reasons. It is not even
possible to include the approximately 35,000 residents of
Jericho among those remaining, because the Israel Defense Forces
forbids them to travel northward of Area A, where they live.
Thousands of residents of the neighboring towns and villages in
the northern West Bank, which are sometimes only a few
kilometers away, are absent from the valley, even though they
have relatives and friends, privately owned land, houses,
commercial ties and jobs there. Also missing are the Palestinian
cars that in the not so distant past used to transport these
absentees. Missing as well are the thousands of potential
travelers to Jordan, the vacationing families and school
students. These potential customers are absent from the colorful
stalls at the crossroads.
Israeli soldiers control this absence via four principal
checkpoints that divide the valley from the rest of the West
Bank. They obey the orders of their commanders: It is forbidden
for any Palestinian--in other words, some two million people
(the 1.4 million residents of Gaza are already forbidden to come
to the West Ba nk in any case)--to enter the valley, except for
those whose official address, in their ID, is the Jordan Valley.
Some will say that these are security measures, whether
legitimate or excessive, citing the attacks on settlers in the
region over the last five years. But primarily, this is a direct
continuation of a long-standing Israeli policy that intensified
during the Oslo period. This policy has turned the Palestinian
Jordan Valley, about one-third of the West Bank, into a story of
lost opportunities from the point of view of its Palestinian
potential: a potential for agricultural development and tourism,
for improving and expanding existing communities or building new
ones, for enabling a variety of lifestyles--urban, rural and
semi-nomadic, modern and ancient, almost biblical.
The Israeli Oslo architects were careful to ensure that the
Palestinian Authority would not be able to develop the valley
during those fateful years when many believed that
rehabilitating the economy was the proper basis both for a
peaceful solution and for increasing support for such a
The Oslo architects designated most of the eastern West Bank as
Area C (full Israeli control), which is off-limits to
Palestinian development. Only the settlements were allowed to
develop, thanks primarily to the theft and exploitation of
Palestinian water sources. A military training zone, where the
IDF has conducted exercises ever since it conquered the West
Bank, occupies 475 square kilometers of the valley and impairs
the traditional lifestyle of thousands of semi-nomadic or
Bedouin shepherds in the area. These shepherds are frequently
turned out of their tents or forbidden to graze their sheep on
these expanses or to raise a little wheat and produce for food.
At one time the explanation was that this is a firing range;
once it was an issue of illegal construction. Just last
Thursday, civil administration personnel demolished the tents,
tin huts and sheepfolds of some 20 agricultural families in five
different places in the valley. It is clear what scares the
Israeli planners: A significant portion of the Palestinian
communities in the valley turned from seasonal extensions of
villages in the northern West Bank into permanent communities in
the middle of the last century. Jews are encouraged to settle in
the valley, but every conceivable method is used to deter
Palestinians from doing so.
Preventing development and halting a long-standing natural
process of construction and population expansion is a form of
emptying out. But over the last few months, this effort expanded
to include active measures: From time to time, soldiers come
during the night and remove to the other side of the checkpoint
those who live or work in the valley but whose official address
is elsewhere. In the morning, these people return via the hills,
evading the soldiers, taking the risk of stepping on a dud
And in October, people were given another reason to become fed
up with life in the valley: Palestinian farmers were prevented
from selling their produce to Israeli farmers at the nearest
border crossing between the valley and Israel.
Instead of traveling five kilometers, they were forced to travel
50, to a distant cargo terminal (Jalameh), and to wait endlessly
at the internal checkpoints, knowing that a large portion of
their vegetables would be spoiled by the sun and the bumping
around. Knowing that there would be no reward for their labor.
The army swears that these prohibitions bear no relation to the
politicians' declarations that the valley will remain in
Israel's hands forever. But in practice, they are helping to
empty it of Palestinians, in preparation for its official
annexation to Israel.
Amira Hass is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza.
This article originally appeared in Ha'aretz.
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