By Stephen Lendman
B’Tselem is the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. In May, it published a comprehensive report titled, “Dispossession & Exploitation: Israel’s policy in the Jordan Valley & northern Dead Sea,” saying:
Both areas contain “the largest land reserves in the West Bank,” covering 1.6 million dunams or 28.8% of the Territory. It’s home to 65,000 Palestinians in 29 communities, as well as another 15,000 in dozens of small Bedouin ones. In addition, about 9,400 Israelis live in 37 settlements, including seven outposts.
Israel intensively exploits these areas, notably their water and other resources, to a greater extent than elsewhere in the West Bank, “demonstrat(ing) its intention: de facto annexation of the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea area….”
In fact, settlers and many Israelis consider these areas part of Israel, claiming they’re not Palestinian Judea and Samaria land (the West Bank and Jerusalem). Moreover, Israeli governments stress maintaining control as a strategic buffer zone between Israel and the “Eastern Front,” the earlier name given a potential Iraqi/Jordanian/Syrian military coalition no longer a threat.
Nonetheless, Netanyahu, like earlier prime ministers, opposes withdrawing from Jordan Valley land, wanting Israel’s security border there permanently. As a result, longstanding Israeli policy expropriated “large swarths” for military areas, nature reserves and state property.
However, the State Comptroller determined that “Israel stole thousands of dunams of privately-owned” Jordan Valley Palestinian land, in breach of Military Order No. 58, stipulating that:
— land transactions are valid as long as Israelis carry them out “in good faith.”
Most stolen land belonged to absentee Palestinians, mostly those fleeing the West Bank in 1967. In the late 1960s and 1970s, land was seized by exchanging it, Palestinians given “substitute land that had belonged to absentees, and by direct allocation of the land of absentees, amounting to thousands of dunams.”
However, the Civil Administration’s legal advisor held that allocating absentee Palestinian land was “prima facie unlawful.” Moreover, the State Comptroller said abandoned private property belonged to original owners.
Yet hundreds of them were denied West Bank entry to prevent returning expropriated land allocated for settlements, closed military areas, or other purposes. In addition, Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea areas were registered by Jordanian authorities as government property when occupation began in 1967.
Thereafter, Israel expropriated land various ways, including by:
— taking it from Palestinian refugees for settlements from 1968 through the 1970s in violation of Military Order No. 58;
— seizing and enlarging state land by legal maneuvers;
— declaring large areas military firing zones, despite locations near settlements, farmland, and main traffic arteries;
— designating other areas nature reserves, though small parts of them are suitable for visitors, and two-thirds of them are used as military firing zones; and
— seizing land for Separation Wall use.
In total, 77.5% of Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea land is off-limits to Palestinians. Moreover, Israel “cut up the Palestinian spatial sphere and isolated Palestinian communities in the area.” Hardline policies, including home demolitions and dispossessions accelerated the process.
Expropriating Area Water
Jordan Valley land is one of the West Bank’s richest natural water sources from the Jordan River Basin, floodwaters, and waters flowing into the Jordan River from West Bank streams and underground sources from the Mountain Aquifer’s eastern section. Moreover, it’s the highest quality available.
Under international law, some may be shared by Israelis and Palestinians, while other sources belong solely to Palestinians. Nonetheless, Israel expropriated most of it for settlers, creating chronic shortages elsewhere in the West Bank.
Beginning in 1967, Palestinians were prohibited from using water resources without permission. In 1995, an Interim Agreement restricted Palestinian usage, including from private wells, leaving them dependent on annual precipitation.
Mostly from the Jordan Valley, water provided settlers lets them develop “intensive-farming methods” for year round use. The amounts are far more than allowed Palestinians, exacerbated because some wells are drying up while others produce less water.
As a result, Palestinians neglected some arable land and switched to less profitable crops elsewhere. Jericho governorate is especially hard hit, its available farmland to Palestinians the lowest in the West Bank at 4.7% compared to 25% on average elsewhere.
In the Jordan Valley overall, 209 operating Palestinian wells existed in 1967 compared to 89 today. Most are for agricultural use. They’re not deep, ranging from dozens of meters to 200, in contrast to much deeper Israeli wells, accessing greater amounts of water.
In addition, the area contains 22 springs, dependent on rainfall to supply them. In recent years, little precipitation caused water levels to drop, and Jordan Valley Palestinians are prohibited from accessing springs elsewhere.
As a result, per capita Israeli settlements are allocated 487 liters a day, three to four times more than Palestinians depending on their Jordan Valley location. In addition, they pay triple the amount assessed settlers, and for communities not connected to a water system, six times that amount or half their monthly expenditures
In fact, according to UN standards, water consumption in Bedouin communities amounts to minimum amounts needed to survive in humanitarian disaster areas.
Restrictions on Movement and Building
Despite calm in the Jordan Valley, Palestinian residents are separated from the rest of the West Bank. Four checkpoints restrict them – Tayasir, Hamra, Ma’ale Efrayim and Yitav, permitting only Israeli-recognized vehicles to pass. In addition, 18 other obstructions include six trenches over a 24.8 km area, eight dirt mounds, and four agricultural gates, forcing farmers and workers to wait hours at times to pass through.
As a result, normal life is seriously impeded, restricting access to educational, medical, and other essential facilities, as well as the ability to visit friends and family.
Moreover, Israel’s planning policy severely restricts building and community development, prohibiting Palestinians from using over three-fourths of Jordan Valley/Dead Sea land. In fact, for years, Israel “prepared plans for only a tiny fraction of the Palestinian communities.” Moreover, no new land for construction and development was allocated, severely restricting a growing population.
Building without permission on their own land assures demolition in violation of international law. Article 46 of the Hague regulations states private property must be respected and can’t be confiscated. In addition, Fourth Geneva’s Article 53 prohibits destroying personal property “except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”
Israel also controls tourist areas, including the Dead Sea’s northern shore, Wadi Qelt, the Qumran caves, the Ein Fashkha reserve springs, access to Jericho, and Qasr Alyahud where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
Exploiting Other Area Resources
Besides water, Israel controls fertile land, mineral resources, tourist sites, and cheap labor in spite of international law prohibitions and a 1983 High Court of Justice (HCJ) ruling that “area held in belligerent occupation is not an open field for economic exploitation.” Like many other HCJ decisions, Israel ignored it, denying or restricting Palestinians access to their own resources.
In fact, the World Bank said if Palestinians had greater water access, agriculture (their main economic sector) would nearly double its share of current GDP and increase employment by 100,000, nearly twice today’s level.
Moreover, if they had access to 50,000 more dunams of land and its water, they could develop a modern agricultural industry, generating about $1 billion annually and up to an additional 200,000 jobs.
In contrast, settlers engage in “intensive, year round, computerized,” innovative farming, switching crops depending on domestic and export markets demand.
Israeli enterprises also exploit the area’s resources. Examples include Ahava cosmetics using Dead Sea high-mineral content mud, Kochav Hashahar quarry extracting building materials, and Jordan Valley facilities treating Israel and settlements’ wastewater, burying it on Palestinian land.
As a result, B’Tselem and other human rights groups condemn Israel’s exploitative policies, an issue a May 18 Haaretz editorial touched on headlined, “Israeli policy will end up isolating it to the point of sanctions,” saying:
Ahead of traveling to Washington, Neyanyahu addressed the Knesset, “sketch(ing) out a diplomatic plan devoid of vision and totally detached from the new reality developing in the region.”
Offering no concessions, he made demands, including:
— maintaining the status quo;
— “demanding a military presence along the Jordan River;”
— asserting the right to Judaize East Jerusalem;
— demanding Palestinians recognize Israel “as the home of the Jewish people,” effectively ordering them to renounce their culture and heritage, leave, or stay with no rights; and
— cancel the Fatah/Hamas unity agreement as a condition for resumed negotiations.
As a result, his inflexibility and those around him may eventually subject Israel to “economic and cultural sanctions similar to those once imposed on apartheid South Africa.”
Calling it “a slippery slope,” Haaretz concluded saying Israelis will pay the price. Many others also if Netanyahu and other hardliners resort to familiar tactics, including belligerence, making a bad situation worse.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.