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No Water for Bedouin Communities in Jordan Valley

Before the 1967 War, the Jordan Valley, part of the West Bank, had more than 80,000 inhabitants, most of them lived in agricultural communities. By 1971, as a result of the ongoing war between the Jordanian armed forces and the Palestinian guerrillas, the population shrunk to 5,000.
Bedouin community view (right picture)
The situation has growing worse since 1967, because all the Israeli governments considered this strip to be the eastern border of Israel with Jordan. Under the 1993 Oslo Accords almost the whole area -except Jericho- was declared to be zone C, meaning that Israel has total control over the territory.
Initially, the state of Israel planned to build a barrier to separate the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank. After the decision of the High Court of Justice in 2004 and followed by international criticism, Israel has been instituted a regime of permits and restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the territory.
The segregation process continued with issuing massive demolition orders in the Jordan Valley, targeting mostly herding communities. According to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the main target of demolitions in Jordan Valley affected the Bedouin population of the area, living in “firing zones” of the Israeli Army. Most of these demolitions occurred in the context of forced eviction of these communities, who lived in these areas well before they were declared as closed territories.

MPT visited the northern part of the Jordan Valley, southeast of Tubas. Our guides were two Palestinian volunteers who work with a local NGO in aiding the herding communities from the valley. The first outstanding experience was not allowing MPTers to pass through the checkpoint, because there is only one checkpoint where internationals can pass, far away in the south. Together with their guides, MPTers decided to choose a very “uncommon” way of passing a border line, a walk about a half mile through the creek bed of a former river, hiding themselves under the green vegetation, and trying not to be observed by the soldiers. They successfully reached their car and headed toward their destinations, Bedouin families living in tents, near their simple animal shelters. The living conditions and stories of the families MPT visited were similar.
These families are very poor, they try to make a living from their animals, making cheese, slaughtering sheep and goats and selling these products in the nearest town or city. Their dwelling is very simple with dirt floors and basic goods. With outside assistance, they sometimes can build homes from adobe, good housing in desert and because no cement is allowed. Although very unusual for the Palestinian mainstream communities, some Bedouins have more than one wife. One family MPT visited a man had four wives and several children. Many of the families have a small house in a village, where they can spend summer months and from which children can attend school. Many of these Bedouins must changing their locations every two years, in order to comply with the existing military orders which says that nobody is allowed to have a house or a home in these “firing zones” . Many families resists this law and several times their homes have been demolished by the Israeli Occupation Forces or by settlers, but each time they rebuilt it with local and international help.

Fenced off water tank
These herding communities face huge economic and social challenges, as there is no electricity, unless a generator is provided, no water, no health care and little education. MPT guide said that Oxfam spent a great deal of money on plastic water tanks that are not useful in this desert area; it would be better for them to have given pumps for water wells. Water tanks have to be hauled 25 miles through checkpoints where people are fined $1,500 for having them, and often confiscated. The Israeli government put up pumps on water wells, fenced these off, and put water pipes on them, which can be used only by the settlements. Traditional Palestinian communities do not have access to these water resources, which legally are theirs.

As a consequence, the occupied Jordan Valley looks like a patchwork puzzle of yellow Palestinian fields next to dark green fields belonging to the settlements. The settlements achieve their wealth and income using stolen lands and water resources.
well off settlements (right picture)
In fact, the settlements in the Jordan Valley are well off, vegetables and fruits are raised and shipped directly by air to Europe and USA. 12 % of what Israel exports from this area goes to the USA.

green houses for the settlements

This situation was visible when MPTers reached an area where on one side of the hill the settlers cultivated their land and had grapes, olive trees and green houses, and on the other side of the hill it was an abandoned and damaged Palestinian green house, useless because of the lack of water.

abandoned palestinian green house

Another challenge for the Bedouin communities is the continuous harassment of the settlers. Some arrived in masse mostly after 2005 from Gaza. These settlers behave very aggressively, demolishing tents and attacking the Bedouins on their lands. One family was attacked a few days ago and forced to move their tents to another place. Our guides told MPT they really have to convince these people that piping water would be cheaper and more convenient than the purchased tanks of water, which are very often requisitioned by the Israeli army. The army also confiscates other basic equipments necessary for the basic livelihoods of these communities: tractor, tents, tin shacks.

The last stop in our tour was visiting an abandoned old building, which hopefully will serve as a school for those children who have to go 7 miles by foot and through a checkpoint to the nearest school. Our guides hope that with the help of local and international donors, this dream would be achieved in the near future.

this ruined house was a nice hotel in the past

MPT also observed with sadness the ecological disaster of what has happened in the Jordan Valley: pumping out the water by the settlements for their own usage left rivers without water, once a flourishing desert resort hotel, with palm trees and flowers is now a place where cows are trying to find shade under the remaining palm trees.

ecological disaster

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