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Visiting Bedouins in the Jordan Valley

The ancient and the new were viewed in the Jordan Valley as MPT members were treated to a field trip by the Sixth Annual Bil’in International Conference for Palestinian Popular Resistance.

After a short visit to Jericho we were met by a member of the Jordan Valley Solidarity Group who acted as a guide to help us understand the problems the Bedouin people are facing due to the military occupation of their ancient land and the ethnic cleansing tactics of the State of Israel. 

Two generations ago, there were 300,000 Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley. That number is now down to 56,000 – one sixth the population.

First we stopped by the dried up Al Auja spring that used to provide water to much of the southern Jordan Valley. It is dried up because Israel has drilled deep wells and stolen the water. Israel provides the water only to the illegal Israeli settlements. Only in the winter does the spring now provide a tiny bit of water. The Bedouin are forced to buy water from Israel in large tanks at exorbitant prices.

Then we moved into Ras Al Auja, a community of about 300, to see the school project that is underway. We saw the mud bricks that are being made and helped to stack some of them. Currently classes for kindergarten and preschool are held in a tent structure for around 20 students. When the mud brick school is completed, hopefully within a month, the expectation is to teach classes for children up to age eleven. The brick making is being done by volunteers, mostly women, because the men are at work. The teachers are also volunteer women. We were privileged to meet two of them.
The school is being built of mud brick because that makes it easy to rebuild. Since the majority of the Jordan Valley is in Area C, under full Israeli control, the Bedouin people cannot get permits to build any structures, not even homes. In the days when the Bedouin roamed about the Jordan Valley they lived in tents as we all would imagine. Today Israel is enforcing containment and preventing them from moving about, particularly across the border into Jordan. 

For centuries these man-made borders have meant nothing to the Bedouin. They have migrated with the seasons and availability of resources at will and have had no particular national allegiance. Now that Israel is forcing them to be more stationary, it would make since for them to build houses, but without permits there is risk that anything they built would be destroyed by the Israeli army as has happened all over the West Bank and Gaza. The homes we observed were made of tenting materials—burlap, canvas, sac cloth and plastic tarps, corrugated metal, screening, dried vegetation such as woven reeds, twigs, etc.

The finale of our visit was being served lunch in the Center of the Jordan Valley Solidarity Group. The Jordan Valley Solidarity Group is a grassroots movement of the indigenous people with the support of some internationals, particularly from Great Britton. This Center is in a building thought to be the oldest building in the Jordan Valley, dating back the Ottoman era. It has been rebuilt over time. It is made of stone, mud bricks, metal and wood framing. While quite primitive it is much more substantial than most structures surrounding it in the community. It has a sink with running water where they cook and wash dishes, a primitive toilet, fire places for heat and cooking. There is little furniture, most seating is made of stone and mud benches covered with burlap or not. There is hope that Israel will respect the ancient quality of the Center and not destroy it as they have so many other buildings in the valley, especially schools.

In the near distance, as we stood at the building site of the school in Ras Al Auja, we could see two illegal settlement farms that exist on the stolen property of the Palestinians, their land, their water. Many of the Bedouin are forced to work on the settlement farms because they do not have water to do their own farming and they are not allowed to graze their sheep and goats near the settlements, under threat of stiff fines. They work for $10-$20 a day. Many Palestinian children are also working on these settlement farms. The lack of schools in the Jordan Valley is greatly caused by the division created by the military occupation regulations which make it the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility to provide the schools, but denies the permits or land to do so. Many Bedouin children must travel long distances by bus, through military checkpoints where they are frequently harassed by Israeli soldiers, into the few Palestinian villages for school. These schools are overcrowded and it is difficult for the Bedouin children to fit in due to the very different lifestyle they lead. Many of the children drop out of school and go to work, knowing that even if they complete their education they are likely to have to work on the settlement farms due to the severe human rights violations created by the only nation in the world permitted to ignore all Geneva Convention International law for occupying countries and protected from all UN resolutions by USA vetoes.

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