Tag Archives: Jordan Valley

Living under threat of demolition in the Jordan Valley

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

The threat of imminent demolition hangs over the Palestinian village of Al-Hadidiya in the Jordan Valley

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A tent of a resident of Al-Hadidiya, a Palestinian village in the West Bank. The Israeli settlement of Roi is visible in the background (photo: Ben Lorber)

Before the Israeli occupation of the West Bank began, Al-Hadidiya, near the Jordan Valley villages of Tubas and Jiftlik, was inhabited by over 100 families. Today, only 14 families remain. Since 1967, the village has been demolished four times.  In 1970, Israeli declared the area a closed military zone, despite the absence of any noticeable military activity. Since then, over 3000 dunums of agricultural land has been appropriated by the nearby settlements of Ro’i and Beqa’ot.

On November 10, the community received demolition orders for 17 structures. If Israeli forces follow through on the threats, 72 people will be affected. As lawyers struggle to postpone or annul the orders, the people of Al-Hadidiye wait in uncertainty and fear.

Abu Sacher is a shepherd whose tents are slated for demolition. Before the first demolition of Al-Hadidiya took place in 1967, Abu Sacher, like all other villagers, lived in a sprawling stone house.

“Do the Americans, the French or the British think that [their children] and the children in Palestine are equally valuable? Do they want to live under occupation? America was under British occupation and they didn’t like that,” Abu Sacher remarked.

Most of Al-Hadidiya’s residents have relocated to nearby villages such as Tubas, Jiftlik, or Nablus. Others, like Abu Sacher, whose home has been demolished six times, remain on their land.

“I will not leave my home”, he said. “Even if the entire population of America comes and settles here, I will still be here.”

In June 2011, the Israeli military demolished 33 structures at Al-Hadidiya, leaving 37 residents homeless, and undermining the livelihood of another 15.

A week after the residents received the latest demolition orders, Stop the Wall spearheaded a letter-writing campaign and diplomats from 7 European representative offices visited Al Hadidiya to learn more about the residents’ plight.

As a consequence of policies designed to remove Palestinian Bedouin from Area C of the Jordan Valley, the people of Al-Hadidiya lack direct access to education, health care, electricity and water resources. Because villagers are barred from digging water wells or using the Mekorot water pipes that run under their feet, they cannot pursue their traditional agricultural lifestyle and must rear animals, a task made more difficult as more dunums of grazing land are appropriated by settlements.

Standing near his tent, his livestock Abu Sacher says that his parents were farmers who lived in a stone house. “But we have been made to live like Bedouin,” he adds.

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Israeli Army Steps up Attacks on Palestinian Water

a longer version of my Alternative Information Center article here

Speaking to the American Congress in May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked that Israel would maintain a long-term presence in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley. In the months that followed, the Israeli army stepped up its attacks on the water wells of the Palestinians who live there.

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 Israeli forces destroy a water container in the West Bank (photo: Morrison World News)

The last two months have seen a steady stream of IOF attacks on Palestinian water wells in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, a troubling trend that warrants bringing the issue of Palestinian water rights once again into the spotlight.

On October 13, farmers received demolition orders on several water wells in Kufr al-Deek, a village in the town of Salfit near Nablus. In September, Israeli military forces demolished 6 water wells belonging to Palestinian Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley, and have threatened to demolish six more. In all these cases, the unilateral IOF actions are explicitly illegal because these wells were built with full permission from the Palestinian Authority, in areas of the Valley supposedly under exclusive Palestinian civil and military control.

The injustice is especially pronounced in the Jordan Valley. On the 8th of September, 50 military jeeps, trucks and bulldozers sealed off Al Nasarayah as a closed military zone, and proceeded to illegally destroy 3 water wells and confiscate the attached water systems, the pumps of which cost $40,000 each to install. Five days later, the IOF returned to Al Nasarayah to demolish 2 more wells, stopping along the way to destroy another well east of Tamoun. The next day, IOF soldiers entered the village of Al- Fa’ara, near Nablus, to photograph and record the GPS coordinates of 6 more wells intended for demolition.

The IOF’s actions are illegal under Israeli, Palestinian and international law because these 6 water wells had permits from the Palestinian Authority, and operated in the 5% of the Jordan Valley designated after the 1994 Oslo Accords Area A, under full Palestinian civil and military control. The motives behind Israel’s actions on the ground, however, emerge into the light of day when seen in the context of other recent Israeli policy resolutions- a plan announced in September to uproot and transfer some 27,000 Bedouin out of Israel-controlled Area C in the West Bank (most Area C Bedouin live in the Jordan Valley), and a decision by the Settlement Division in early July to increase by 130% the land given to settlers for farming in the Jordan Valley, and to increase from 42 to 51 cubic meters per year the amount of water given to settlers to irrigate such farmland.

What do the destruction of Palestinian Bedouin water wells in the Jordan Valley, the transfer of Palestinian Bedouin citizens out of the Jordan Valley, and the expansion of land and water given to settlers in the Jordan Valley, all have in common? Together, they highlight the oppression and ethnic cleansing of the Jordan Valley that has typified Israeli policy since the Valley became occupied territory in 1967.

A focal point of this oppression- and a crucial locus of the Palestinian Bedouin struggle to resist the occupation and  remain in their homeland- is the issue of water. For as Israel has seized absolute control over allocation and distribution of the resources of the 3 water aquifers under the West Bank for use on both sides of the Green Line, the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza, and especially the Bedouin population of the Jordan Valley, have seen the steady drying-up of the once-flowing springs around which they have built their villages, have found themselves unable to dig sufficient wells of their own because of crippling Israeli regulations, and have watched themselves become dependent on the exorbitant prices of their oppressor for access to so basic and indispensable a human right.

Far more than in the rest of the West Bank, the struggle over water for the Jordan Valley Bedouin is a struggle between life and death. The ‘draining away’ of Palestinian water rights in the Jordan Valley- to borrow the title of a  2010 report by Ma’an Development Center- has a long and tumultuous history. When the West Bank became occupied territory in 1967, the Israeli army established a military order to the effect that all West Bank water came under control of the state, and Israel’s national water carrier, Mekorot, seized water aquifers and developed wells throughout the West Bank to serve Israel and its newly expanding settlements. Between 1967 and the 1994 Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Bedouin in the Jordan Valley saw first their land, and then their water, disappear behind the heavily-guarded gates of settlements, where settlers were granted ample supplies of the latter in order to make the former bloom.

The situation grew increasingly dire until a brief ray of hope in 1995, when Article 40 of the Oslo II agreements set an interim agreement, designed to be revised within five years (but still in effect to this day), whereby approximately one quarter of West Bank water resources would come under Palestinian Authority control, and a Joint Water Committee would be established, in the words of the 2009 World Bank report ‘Assessment of Restrictions on Palestinian Water Development: West Bank and Gaza’, “to oversee management of the aquifers, with decisions to be based on consensus between the two parties.”

However, Oslo brought with it new institutionalized systems of oppression. Since Oslo 1 in 1993 consigned 95% of the Jordan Valley to Area C status (under full Israeli and military control), neither the Area C Bedouin communities themselves, nor the Palestinian Authority, nor the constant swarm of international NGOs, can commence with unregulated construction of their own initiative, because, in the words of Jordan Valley Solidarity, a grassroots movement, “across Area C, access to basic services such as water is restricted through the debilitating permit system which is regulated by the Israeli Civil Administration. Obtaining a permit for any form of construction –even for water- is notoriously difficult, nay impossible. This prevents Palestinians from building new infrastructure, or from making improvements to existing facilities.”

Atop this blanket layer of oppression, which effectively and intentionally squelches all trace of community autonomy, the Palestinian Bedouin in the 95% of the Jordan Valley which is Area C are deprived of the ability to improve their access to water resources through three interlocking buereacratic systems of control- the Joint Water Committee, where a group of Israeli and Palestinian decision-makers permits or denies water access or rehabilitation projects proposed by the Palestinian Water Authority (for Areas A, B and C); the Israeli Civil Administration, which, if an Area C project is permitted by the Joint Water Committee, pulls that project through a thicket of bureaucratic, technical limitations and scrutinies, effectively crippling its implementation if not grinding it to a halt completely; and, last but not least, the Israeli army, which ceaselessly continues, as it sees fit and irregardless of law, to demolish water wells, tankers, and infrastructure on the ground in Bedouin communities across Areas A, B and C, even if the proper permits are possessed.

Thus, what was promised under Oslo II to be consensus decision-making regarding water resources is in reality institutionalized unilateral control of the oppressor over the oppressed, and due to this matrix of Israeli control, it becomes nearly impossible for the Palestinian Authority, as well as most NGOs, to commit themselves to meaningful, sustainable infrastructural development in Area C of the West Bank.

At the level of the Joint Water Committee, details Ma’an’s ‘Draining Away’,   “the fact that decisions are arrived at through consensus effectively means that Israel can veto Palestinian projects…[also], the PWA is not consulted regarding extractions from the aquifer for Israeli use (settlers or otherwise), which is not in accordance with the governance rules under Article 40. Nor does the Palestinian Authority have the right to access data on Israeli use of water resources, whereas Israel reserves the right for continual access to water resource data in the West Bank…around 150 water and sanitation projects are still pending JWC approval for “technical and security reasons”, while only one new Palestinian well project for the Western aquifer has been approved since 1993. In contrast, Israel is able to construct pipelines to its illegal settlements without going through the mechanism of the JWC. Thus Israel effectively has full control of water resources in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

The World Bank’s 2009 report confirms the non-consensual reality of the Joint Water Committee’s supposed ‘consensus decision-making’- “[the] JWC has not fulfilled its role of providing a supportive governance framework for joint resource management and investment…politics and policy issues have limited the number of project approvals…fundamental asymmetries – of power, of capacity, of information – put into question the role of JWC as a “joint” institution…Israel takes unilateral water-related actions outside the JWC…only one third (by value) of projects presented to the JWC 2001-8 have been implemented…(1) the process is in general slow; (2) the rate of rejection of PA projects is high; (3) the PWA has almost never sought to reject Israeli projects (only one has not been approved); and (4) well drilling projects and – until very recently -wastewater projects have had very low rates of approval….in order to solicit approvals on vital emergency water needs, the PA is forced into positions that compromise its basic policy principles. Such an asymmetrical power balance (one party, Israel, has virtually all the power and is not driven by emergencies), together with the observed track record of the JWC, have contributed to a loss of trust and confidence and to very poor outcomes (for Palestinians) that undermine the rationale for the committee as a de facto “joint” approach to water sector management.”

Deeb Abdelghafar, Director of Water Resources for the Palestinian Water Authority, relates how “we submitted our application two years ago to build two new production wells in the northern part of the Jordan Valley, [to supply] water for domestic and agricultural purposes, and we know that they have reviewed it, but up to now we have not gotten any response, and we are not optimistic…we have more than 80 agricultural wells that need to be rehabilitated in Jordan Valley, and we have had these wells in the JWC for more than 4 years, but unfortunately we could not get final approval from Joint Water Committee.”

Even if the Joint Water Committee approves a project, its effective implementation is crippled by the red tape of the Israeli Civil Administration. Abdelghafar continues- “the most difficult step in the process for us is the Civil Administration because there are more than 14 departments, and each department must approve on the project. So we can never get a project through the civil administration, because some departments approve and some do not.” Ayman Rabi, Assistant Director of the Palestinian Hydrology Group for Water and Environmental Resources Development, an NGO working to improve access to water and sanitation services in the Occupied Palestinian territories. echoes Abdelghafar’s frustrations that “there is a big problem now in implementing anything in Area C, and that is one of the major hindrances right now to our work in that area….we have to ask [for a] permit and this generally we do through Palestinian Authority, and then they are applying through the Joint Water Committee….[but] even if the Joint Water Committee approves any intervention or project, the Israeli Civil Administration requests more documentation procedures, the process is longer, they put more conditions for implementation in Area C, so you might end up not implementing any activity because of this long and complicated procedure.” The World Bank report quotes an anonymous donor who reports the same difficulties- “first thing we request is a letter from PWA approving the project. Then we go to the JWC. But then we have to go to the Civil Administration – and there delays of 2-3 years are normal. In fact, we have no positive outcomes for Area C.”

Since nearly every proposal for the construction of water infrastructure in Area C is shut down by the twin juggernauts of the Joint Water Committee and the Israeli Civil Administration, NGOs must focus their efforts, to quote Abdelghafar, on “civil emergency intervention- by delivering small water tankers, by supplying them with water tanks, by constructing rainwater cisterns- it’s emergency humanitarian relief.” While important, this small-scale aid is carried out in lieu of large-scale, long-term projects that would strike at the root of the problem, rather than merely seeking to alleviate its effects. Says the World Bank report, “in the light of the difficulty of implementing major projects, the reasonable response has been short term emergency projects, often small projects with NGOs, and these smaller projects have become a very large part of water sector development…however, the multiplicity of small donors and multiple projects are more difficult to fit within a planning framework…NGOs have a comparative advantage in a grass roots field presence and a certain demand-driven character…[they are] nimble…but are small scale and short term” (p.63).

In the village of Hamsa, near the Hamra checkpoint in the Jordan Valley, Abu Riyad, who has been living in Hamsa with his family for thirty years, must now travel long distances to get water for drinking and irrigation, after two huge water wells constructed for nearby settlements have dried up the springs upon which for generations the community of Hamsa has relied. Says Ma’an’s report ‘Draining Away’- “unconnected to the water network, Abu Riyad must now travel to Ein Shibleh for his water.  Nor does the family know the quality of the water and if it has been treated.  While he is fortunate not to have to pay for this supply, it costs 200 shekels to transport 10 cubic metres of water. As the water covers all of the family’s needs, from drinking, washing and drinking water for the animals, Abu Riyad must transport this amount every four days.  With the price of fuel rising, this means that water represents an increasing financial drain for the family…the community receives little support. While several tanks and water coupons have been donated from local and international NGOs, this is only ever for limited amounts of time, and thus provides only temporary relief.”

Indeed, Abu Riyad is fortunate to receive water for free. Ayman Rabi of the Palestinian Hydrology Group laments that, regarding many of his organization’s aid initiatives, “[the recipients of water] are asked to contribute, unfortunately. Although we do not like this, it is something that has been agreed on by the [Palestinian] Water Authority. They have been asked to contribute by 10 shekels, though we are not happy with this arrangement, for each cubic meter. and then we refill them whenever they ask us to.”

Many organizations, instead of delivering water, deliver water tanks to imperiled communities, so that Bedouin may transport water from filling points. However, by delivering water tanks, instead of connecting communities to water networks, these NGOs, though well-intentioned, often compound the problem by forcing the Bedouin to drive long distances, through a myriad of checkpoints, to filling points in Areas A or B, in order to maintain a constant water supply. The World Bank report decries that “occupation checkpoints and curfews severely limit tanker access to communities…there are 36 fixed checkpoints across the West Bank, including the gates of the Separation Barrier, that seriously affect access of water tankers and maintenance teams to communities….Given the risks faced by drivers for their physical safety coupled with the longer routes, the price of water through tankers has increased exponentially”.

The case of Abu Riyad illustrates how expensive this practice can become for Bedouin faced with no alternative. According to Fathy Khdirat of Jordan Valley Solidarity, “to use water tankers in this way costs the Bedouin 30 shekels per cubic meter of water, while their neighbors in Areas A or B pay on average between ½ and 3 shekels per cubic meter of water.” The perpetuation of this inequality works in the occupation’s favor, by encouraging Bedouin to move out of Area C into Areas A or B.

In addition, mobilizing short-term emergency relief is much more expensive for the NGOs than would be a project to install permanent pipelines linking the Bedouin to water sources. Fathy Khdirat estimates that a recent $700,000 initiative to accomplish the former could have achieved the latter with 10% of the budget. Between the Joint Water Committee, the Israeli Civil Administration and the IOF, however, the possibility of installing permanent water infrastructure for the Bedouin is practically foreclosed from the beginning, so that aid initiatives are forced to work within the restricting, oppressive parameters of Israeli law. Says the World Bank report, “at best, the PA role is reduced to improving water and sanitation services to Palestinian communities within the constraints laid down…stakeholders recognize the inefficiency and high costs of such fragmented and contingency development– but see no alternative.”

The bueraucratic matrix of corruption and control, in which both Israeli and Palestinian political and civil organizations are enmeshed, causes on-the-ground human rights abuses in clear violation of The Right To Water, enshrined in General Comment no. 15 of articles 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by the United Nations Economic and Social Council in Geneva, in November 2002. The document stipulates that “the right to water contains both freedoms and entitlements. The freedoms include the right to maintain access to existing water supplies necessary for the right to water, and the right to be free from interference…by contrast, the entitlements include the right to a system of water supply and management that provides equality of opportunity for people to enjoy the right to water.” The covenant goes on to list specific water entitlements- the right of “physical accessibility: water, and adequate water facilities and services, must be within safe physical reach for all sections of the population. Sufficient, safe and acceptable water must be accessible…within, or in the immediate vicinity, of each household, educational institution and workplace…”; the right of  “economic accessibility: water, and water facilities and services, must be affordable for all. The direct and indirect costs and charges associated with securing water must be affordable…”; and the right of “non-discrimination: water and water facilities and services must be accessible to all, including the most vulnerable or marginalized sections of the population, in law and in fact, without discrimination”.

Ma’an’s report, ‘Draining Away’, clarifies that, in regards to the Right to Water enshrined in this document, that “while this right does not entitle people to unlimited use of free water or to household connection, it does mean that water and sanitation services should be affordable, that water and sanitation facilities should be in the immediate vicinity of the household, and that water should be used in a sustainable manner. This right exists irrespective of an individual’s ethnicity, gender, age, religious or political beliefs…it also stipulates that individuals and communities can participate in, and influence, decision making relating to water and sanitation services on national and local levels.”

Here are some quick facts taken from Ma’an’s ‘Draining Away’, which should be measured against the UN-enshrined Right to Water-

In October 2009 Amnesty International noted that “180,000-200,000 Palestinians living in rural communities have no access to running water, and even in towns and villages which are connected to the water network, the taps often run dry.”

According to the WASH monitoring project, the cost of private tankered water in 290 communities in the West Bank has increased between 100-200% for one cubic meter since the start of the intifada.

40% of Palestinians in the Jordan Valley consume less water than the minimum global standard set by the World Health Organization, which is set at 100 liters cubed per day.

56,000 Palestinians in the Jordan Valley consume an average of 37 Million Cubic Meters (MCM) of water per year, as compared to an average of 41 MCM for only 9,400 settlers.

Palestinians are charged more than their counterparts in Israel for water: Mekorot charges Israelis NIS 1.8 per cubic metre, compared to an average of NIS 2.5 per cubic metre for Palestinians.

There is near-universal consensus that there exists in the Jordan Valley a systematic policy of oppression and ethnic cleansing, touching upon not only water but all aspects of life for the 15,000 Bedouin who are unconnected to any water network in the 95% of the Valley designated Area C. Says Deeb Abdelghafar of the Palestinian Water Authority, “the Jordan Valley is  a unique area from the Israeli point of view. They are trying to [establish] control over this area, and they are trying to prevent any permanent water infrastructure in order to prevent the people to be there… they don’t want to support the existence of these people, they want to immigrate the people outside of this area.”

Advocates like Fathy Khdirat of Jordan Valley Solidarity, a grassroots movement that works to build infrastructure for the Bedouin of the Valley, are determined to encourage those under occupation to resist the oppression, and remain in their native land. “I spent all my life under the Occupation,” insists Fathy, “and I want to see a better future for my children. I am from there, and I will not shut up.”

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Israel Targets Vittorio Arrigone School in Embattled Jordan Valley

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

 

As schools around the world begin another year of instruction, one school, near to completion in one of the most grief-stricken and resilient areas of occupied Palestine, has suffered a massive set-back because the Israeli military has carried away its infrastructure- the Vittorio Arrigone school, in the small village of Ras Al Auja

 

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Israeli soldiers confiscate and take away a donated caravan that was to serve as a classroom (Photo: Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign) 

 

in the Jordan Valley.

 

The Arrigoni school, named after the Italian International Solidarity Movement activist killed in Gaza this April, began in February as a small tent school in the village of Ras Al Auja, and began evolving into a more permanent mud-brick and caravan structure in April. Built jointly by the Ras Al Auja community and the activist group Jordan Valley Solidarity, the school, once built, will educate young children up to the age of 13 in one of the areas of the West Bank hardest hit by the Israeli occupation. From the time that Israel seized control of the area in 1967 until the present, the resident Palestinian population has decreased from 320,000 residents to 56,000, as 36 primarily agricultural Israeli settlements, housing 6,400 settlers, have been constructed on 50% of the Jordan Valley’s land.

 

Ras Al Auja is a Bedouin community seven km west of the larger community of Al Auja. Both serve as paradigmatic examples of the devastating impact of Israeli occupation on Bedouin in the Jordan Valley. Until Israel’s occupation, Al Auja was for millennia an oasis, famous for its ever-flowing spring. As it says on the website of Jordan Valley Solidarity, “people would come to Al Auja from all over to swim, fish and sit among the banana groves that once grew there.” In 1972, the Israeli water company Mekorot, which has monopolized the West Bank water,  dug two deep water wells in Al Auja, cutting off the flow of water before it reached the village. “These wells lowered the water table, drying out the spring. Today the area is a desert, crossed with dried-up canals that see water one or two weeks every year during the rainy season.”

 

As is commonplace for the larger West Bank Bedouin communities, families must use tractors and mobile water tanks to bring water to their homes and villages, at considerable personal expense. The estimated amount of water that one Palestinian in the Valley consumes per day, for drinking as well as all other activities, is some 70 litres. This is the amount of water it takes to flush a toilet. Jordan Valley settlers, on the other hand, enjoy free access to water and, from the comfort of their heavily subsidized, modern settlement homes, individually consume about 33 times as much water as their Palestinian neighbors in the Valley.

 

To make matters worse, the families of Al Auja and Ras Al Auja, who settled there after expulsion from Beer Sheva during the 1948 Nakba, used to have “over 100 sheep or goats each, which they grazed on the mountains and watered at the spring”. Now, the settlements of Yitav, Niran and ‘Omer’s Farm’ have colonized the surrounding mountains, an army military checkpoint borders Ras Al Auja to the south, and two enormous settler-only water towers cast a grim shade over the dry Al Auja spring. ‘Omer’s Farm’, in particular, has stolen half the land of Ras Al Auja in the five years of its existence. It consists of a single family, on a hilltop, surrounded by stolen farmland, heavily guarded by the Israeli military.

 

The men of Al Auja, according to Jordan Valley Solidarity, “are reduced to surviving by working in Israel’s illegal settlements, earning a pittance. The area feels like little more than a work camp, reminiscent of the townships of apartheid South Africa, with all the men away during the day in the settlements.” The Bedouin now work for settlers, to farm land that the latter stole from them. While they were previously self-sufficient farmers, the residents now wage-laborers making scarcely enough to get by.

 

In March 2011, Jordan Valley Solidarity joined with community members to construct a school for children of the 130+ families of Ras Al Auja. Over the course of two weeks, volunteers sewed sack cloths together to construct a makeshift tent school, where women from the community began to teach 30 children, mostly aged between 5 and 8, a basic curriculum of math, English, Arabic, geography and history. It was vitally important to establish a school in Ras Al Auja, says Jordan Valley Solidarity coordinator, volunteer and driving force ‘Jane’, who has been involved with this project since its inception, because “if you don’t have education when you’re a small child, that means that when you go to school you’re behind already. Education is a basic human right. These people have a right to education in their community.”

 

Before construction of this school, the children of Ras Al Auja were forced to walk 7 kilometres each morning to the school in al Auja. As the foot path trailed right next to two Israeli settlements, exposing children to regular physical and psychological settler harassment, many parents were wary of sending their young children to school. In addition, numerous fathers are off working in these very Israeli settlements, thus unavailable to assist their children in the mornings. Numerous children, therefore, were left without an education until later years.

 

Today, because the new school in Ras Al Auja only educates children aged 7 to 13, those children over 13 lucky enough to continue their education still need to take this daily trek to the Al Auja Secondary School, where they can study for the Tawjihi (matriculation exams). Mossem Zubaidat, a volunteer with Jordan Valley Solidarity who also works with the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, relates how “there is no transport to take them to the village, so they use their legs to go to school in summer and winter. It is hard for them to put the bag on their back and walk all the distance…We need to build the school because in Ras Al Auja the people live in boxes, not in houses, they live in tents! We are certain to build a school there, it is our land and we can build a school anywhere!”

 

The Israeli army does not agree. The Area A, B and C zoning system was established for the West Bank after the 1993 Oslo Accords to designate areas of full Palestinian control, joint Palestinian civil and Israeli military control, and full Israeli control, respectively. Because 95% of the Jordan Valley, including al Auja and Ras al Auja, falls under Area C (50% because of Israeli settlements and 45% because of military training grounds and nature reserves), this means that almost nowhere in the Valley can the Bedouin build any permanent structure without requiring an Israeli permit, which is expensive to apply for and almost impossible to obtain. Between January 2000 and September 2007, Israel issued almost 5,000 demolition orders against Palestinian structures in the Jordan Valley. Of those, 1,663 demolitions were carried out – Israeli bulldozers tore down houses, schools, animal shelters and even entire villages.

 

The stated purpose of Israel’s vise-like grip on ownership and control of the Valley is to hold a security buffer space between Israel and Jordan, necessary to defend the country; in reality, however, Israel covets the Valley because (1) the West Bank, which could serve as a future Palestinian state, is thereby surrounded on all sides by Israel; (2) the West Bank is thereby cut off from economic interaction and communication with Jordan, and the rest of the Middle East; and (3) in the words of the soon to be published Jordan Valley Solidarity factbook To Exist Is To Resist, the Jordan Valley’s “abundance of water resources, fertile soil and natural minerals offer competitive economic advantages in agriculture, industry and tourism. It also constitutes a geographical “reservoir” of land where the Palestinians could establish housing projects and public facilities.”

 

Israel’s policy of constant settlement expansion, pervasive military checkpoints, destruction or closure of Palestinian roads (the last few years have seen 17 new roadblocks and 4 new checkpoints in the Jordan Valley), construction of Israeli-only bypass roads and physical intimidation, harassment, and outright demolition of Bedouin villages in Area C is evidence of a conscious attempt to gradually exterminate a Palestinian presence in the Jordan Valley, to cement Israeli control and solidify a long-term Israeli presence that remains illegal under international law. Jane explains the role of Jordan Valley Solidarity in resisting the Israeli occupation: “By supporting communities to construct infrastructure for basic services, we support them to stay in their communities, on their land- because the Israelis want them to leave the Jordan Valley, or to make them move into the 5% of the land which is in area A or B to create an Israeli state with Palestinian ghettoes.” The establishment of a school in Ras Al Auja, like countless other projects in the Valley, is not primarily a gesture of humanitarian aid, but rather a symbol of international solidarity. “The aim of lack of education is to drive people from their land. What that means is that the right to education for people is really important…as a basic human right, it’s not something that can be taken away from children…Therefore our motto is ‘to exist is to resist’, and the people in Ras Al Auja are existing and resisting just by being there, and being on their land is their resistance, so we support them in their resistance…together, [we are] using their own land that the people live on to create a fact on the ground to resist the Israeli occupation.”

 

It was in this spirit of resistance that, in April, it was decided that a tent school, though an important first step, was too small and impermanent to meet the community’s needs. Accordingly, over 100 international volunteers and community members began constructing two permanent mud-brick classroom buildings. After the death of Italian International Solidarity Movement activist Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza that April, the Ras Al Auja community, which personally knows the vital role of international activism, requested to name the school Vittorio Arrigoni. From the Jordan Valley Solidarity website- “Vittorio was, and will remain, a great symbol of resistance. To give his name to one of our schools is an honour, and we will do our best to make this school another example of resistance against the occupation.” On 25 April 25t Luisa Morgantini, former Vice President of the European Parliament, Majed Al Fityani, Jericho Governor, 50 Italian volunteers, members of the local community, and Jordan Valley Solidarity volunteers laid the first brick of the Vittorio Solidarity school while singing ‘Bella Ciao’ and the Socialist International anthem.

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Israeli army taking away the donated mobile classrooms of the Arrigoni school in the Jordan Valley (Photo: Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign) 

 

It is this spirit of resistance that the Israeli army is acting to suppress. During the month of Ramadan, the Ras Al Auja school joyously received a donation of two large caravans, which would serve as classrooms. Yet at 10.30 a.m. on 7 September, in Jane’s words, “the Israeli occupation force arrived and removed the caravans on lorries, leaving paperwork…they made all the village stay back and declared it was a closed military zone while they removed the caravans”.

 

Jericho Governor Majed Al Fityani, who laid the first brick of the Vittorio Arrigoni school in April, said Wednesday afternoon that “we were surprised by the Israeli actions this morning, we were not expecting this from the Israelis. We are going to request an official answer from the Israelis for why they took the caravans…it is the duty of the government to provide education for the people. it is a question of providing services and facilities for the students, free of charge. It is very difficult to provide services because the school is in Area C, so it is impossible for us to build structures there.”

The start of classes will be postponed until further accommodations are arranged for the students. In addition, a celebration and official announcement ceremony for the school, planned for September 15, will now be postponed.

 

Nonetheless, the community of Ras Al Auja, along with Jordan Valley Solidarity, remains resilient in the face of this new obstacle. Explains Mossem Zubaidat, “its not the first school we built with Jordan Valley Solidarity. The first school was in Jiftlik, it started in tents, now it’s a building. The second school is in Fasayil. We built it from mud and soil and tents, and now it has become a building. So we have experience with the Israelis about these situations. We are sure that we are going to build that school again, and we must build that school for these people. We are going to talk to the media, we are going to talk to the Jericho Governorate, and we are going to talk to the community, to do something about it. The army says it is illegal, but we say it is legal, because it is Palestinian land!…We have to build the school because we need to stand with these people in their land, not to leave their land to the Israelis. We are going to fight to build that school again, we are not going to surrender!”

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Occupation in the Jordan Valley

In the last month ISM has joined up with Jordan Valley Solidarity and a slew of other international activists to make mud bricks for a new house and football field in the small Bedouin village of Fasayil, in the Jordan Valley. Fasayil is made up of many scattered islets of Bedouin homes, animal pens and makeshift structures, spread out over a swath of desert. In the daytime, children run around in the stifling heat yelling at each other; men walk around in short sleeves busy with the day’s tasks, or sit in the shade together talking and staring off toward the mountains; women, wrapped in shawls, peek out of their houses briefly to walk across the encampments, and can sometimes be seen sitting on their porches, but otherwise seem embarrassed to appear before the eyes of Westerners (and pretty much anyone, given the conservative social structure here). There are many scattered encampments, of five or six houses each, that gradually lead up to the center of the village, where the structures are more permanent, and there is a little shop that sells cold cans of Coke, warm pita, and all the other amenities.

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Right now, though the Jordan Valley is one of the regions of the West Bank hardest hit by the Occupation, Jordan Valley Solidarity is one of the only NGOs working on the ground. This is because, in Israel’s tripartite structure of apartheid, most of the Jordan Valley falls under Area C zoning regulations, where it is under full Israeli military and civil control as a ‘closed military zone’. This means, among other things, that it is illegal for the Palestinians, most of whom are Bedouin, to build any permanent structures without a permit, which is almost impossible to obtain. Therefore, most NGOs will not work in the Jordan Valley, not so much because any structure they build will be demolished (which is largely true), but because building is illegal in the first place.

Fasayil is a unique example because the center of town falls under Area B regulations- Israeli military control, but Palestinian civil control- while the outskirts of town are completely Area C. The structures at the center of Fasayil are larger and more permanent, therefore, because, due to zoning laws, this is the only part of town that is not regularly demolished. After demolitions in Fasayil 2 months ago, 134 people, including 64 children, were left sitting under the blazing sun, surrounded by their possessions, with nowhere to go.

Because the land is designated as an Area C Closed Military Zone, the Bedouin, who have either lived semi-nomadic lives in the region for centuries or who have moved there as refugees after 1948, not only are not allowed to build structures of any significant permanency, but they also cannot dig water wells of any significant depth, and because of Israeli military checkpoints and road closures they can scarcely export goods of any significant quantity or quality. The not-yet-published Jordan Valley Solidarity factbook ‘To Exist is To Resist’ describes the difference between the two areas in Fasayil-

“Because it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain construction permits in Area C, the difference between the two sides of town is stark. Indeed, when crossing from Area B to C the demarcation is not a checkpoint or a sign, but rather the end of paved roads and the drastic change from houses to shacks. Animal shelters mix with residences, electricity is scarce and water must be bought and brought in at exorbitant prices from Israeli companies.”

The web site of PEDAL (www.100daystopalestine.org), one of the international groups that work with us here, gives a great summary of the history of the Valley-

“After the 1948 Nakba (when over 700,000 Palestinians were expelled) many refugees arrived here and in 1967, in a deal between Jordan and Israe,l they had their refugee status revoked in exchange for small plots of land. Following this, many inhabited refugee camps were demolished while the UN turned a blind eye. Since 1967 Israel has taken nearly all the remaining land, leaving just 5% Palestinian (area a+b) consisting of Jericho and 5 villages: Lower Fasaiel, Bardala, Al Uja, Zubeidat, and Ein Al Beida. The rest of the valley (95%) is now area c and subject to military control. Of the 320,000 Palestinians that lived in the valley before 1967 only 56,000 remain (75% of which live in Jericho), the rest have been displaced.”

The stated purpose of Israel’s vise-like grip on ownership and control of the Valley is to hold a security buffer space between Israel and Jordan, necessary to defend the country; in reality, however, Israel covets the Valley because (1) the West Bank, which could serve as a future Palestinian state, is thereby surrounded on all sides by Israel; (2) the West Bank is thereby cut off from economic interaction and communication with Jordan, and the rest of the Middle East; and (3) in the words of Jordan Valley Solidarity, the Jordan Valley’s “abundance of water resources, fertile soil and natural minerals offer competitive economic advantages in agriculture, industry and tourism. It also constitutes a geographical “reservoir” of land where the Palestinians could establish housing projects and public facilities.”

Every day, at about five in the afternoon, after a long day of sitting around eating pita with hummus and talking politics (or hitch-hiking to Jericho), the internationals (usually anywhere from twelve to five of us, depending on the day) walk out to the desert beside the village to begin work. At this time, the sun has sunk down to touch the top of the mountains, it is no longer unbearably hot outside, and a strong breeze begins to kick up through the valley, sweeping sand up in its path, as the hot air rises and cool air rushes in to fill the vacuum underneath. As we walk in between the houses and animal pens of Area C Fasayil, mothers smile at us from their windows, children look up into our eyes and look away, fathers nod their heads and say ‘salaam aleikum’, the smell of Ramadan break-fast wafts out of open doors, donkeys stand and neigh, goats shift their feet, dogs bask in the afternoon heat; the enchantment of this beautiful community mingles with the haunting recognition that each of these structures has received final demolition orders, and thus could be bulldozed to the ground at any time. This entire village could disappear from existence in the blink of an eye, at 6 in the morning, with the Bedouin families standing beside the rubble of their homes screaming and sobbing, and international activists arriving just in time to offer their condolences, take pictures, and write a report for the news media.

 

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At the site of work, a water tank drives up to the large pit we dug in the earth; somebody turns the faucet, and water pours out into the pit, mixing with the sand to create a thick, wet mud. Excitedly we pull up our trousers, dig our feet into the mud and begin working the sand in with the water, spreading the mixture evenly to make a consistent mushy, gooey mud which envelops everything it touches. Five mud-caked, wide-eyed, primarily European 20-somethings dancing around in the mud, surrounded by ten or so Palestinian shebab (young men) looking amused, is certainly a sight to see! We dump a bag full of ‘kash’ (straw) into the mix, and once that becomes suffused throughout the goop it is proper mud, perfect to make bricks. Some of us scoop the stuff into buckets, others carry the buckets to the third group, who stand hunched over in a line, shaping the mud into bricks, and leaving the mud bricks out to dry.

 

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Recently, the IDF has begun to crack down on our activities. In the words of an international, who would prefer to go by the name Francis Taylor,  “the soldiers came every night the last five nights. The first night they just asked us what we were doing, the second night they said ‘you know you’re building illegal houses and you could be arrested today or tomorrow’. The third night we anticipated them coming, and we left before they raided the site. When they came they stole the tools and destroyed the equipment and smashed the bricks. Since then we have made new tools and are working harder.”

We work into the night, taking various tea and hookah breaks, and then come 11 p.m. we stumble back to our single collective room, with weary bones and muddy skin, and sit down to an amazing meal, cooked by a Bedouin woman behind the closed doors of her home and served to us by her husband, who gets all the thanks.

Here is the brief article about our project, on the Jordan Valley Solidarity website-

http://jordanvalleysolidarity.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=320:working-side-by-side-with-the-community-in-fasayal&catid=15:2010&Itemid=21

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