In January 2012 Tom Godwin travelled with a group of students to the Jordan Valley to stay with Jordan Valley Solidarity, an organisation raising awareness of and local resistance to the occupation and slow ethnic  cleansing of the Jordan Valley area and works with a network of Palestinian grassroots communities and international supporters.

When we arrived we were given a quick lesson on how to make bricks, afterwards we left our base in Al Jiflik in a two-car convoy, and made our way across the valley. We passed the familiar sight of continuous Israeli settlements on the east side, which form a continuous area blocking Palestinians from the valuable Jordan river.

Halfway toward our destination, we passed a striking monument. Atop a hill, pointing to the sky, sat a 30 foot metal Kalashnikov, a monument to the fallen Israeli soldiers of 1967, and a key stopping point for tourists to the area. We went to the top of the hill, parking alongside the tour bus with “Educational Tourism” written on the side. There is a lot of Zionist sponsored ‘educational’ tourism which is meant to who raise money for environmental and conservation purposes, while using such opportunities to further annex land. He pointed to the Israeli settlements to the left and then in the direction of the demolished village where we were to visit next, only five minutes down the road.

Mutual inquisitiveness led members of both groups to approach one another. We asked the tourists what they thought of the confiscation and annexation of water resources, land and homes in the Valley. The responses were predictable. Regarding the water, the tourists said, “Do not believe what they tell you”. However, our members worked and lived with the communities and had seen such things with their own eyes. Another tourist asked us, “What is Palestine? There is no such thing as Palestine. There is no such thing as Palestinians! Twenty years ago this was all desert!” Our two Palestinian friends were present for the conversation. One told me that this encounter was the first time in his life that he had ever met an Israeli who was not a soldier.

We left the monument for the village of Al Fasail in the Southern part of the Valley, recently designated a C area. We were silent as the car entered the village.

 What was once a village was now nothing more than rubble, scattered bricks and leftover scraps of twisted metal. Between 2000 and 2007, 1,663 homes were demolished in the Jordan Valley, and the number continues to rise. Mixing with trowels, dirt and sawdust, we made approximately 300 bricks at the end of the day, a small contribution towards the rebuilding of a small house. The impossibility of self-sufficient livelihoods in the Jordan Valley mean 14 year old children are forced to work in Israeli settlement farms for meager wages, with no job security and few rights. In the mornings, these boys work as cheap backdoor labour in the surrounding settlements and they spend their afternoons rebuilding their homes.

We finished the day with a conception of what Palestine once was, without occupation.

As we left the Jordan Valley the next day for Jericho we passed all the same familiar reminders, booming jets overhead, settlements and high fences, military zones and apartheid walls. As we passed an Israeli-only road, we saw the centre of Jericho five minutes away, a “major concession” made by the Israeli government in the Oslo Accords. This road, like so many others, could not be used by Palestinians.

A little under an hour later, we finally made our way into the city. We saw dried-up Palestinian springs and water ways. Opposite one of these was another familiar sight, an Israeli water pipe system surrounded by high razor wire. Over the last four decades Israel has isolated 162 agricultural wells in the Jordan Valley, prohibiting Palestinians from using them. The al-Auja spring was once the strongest in the area. It has since become completely dry, following the establishment of Israeli wells alongside.

The few days we spent in the Jordan Valley might be seen as a microcosm of our experience of the West Bank. We saw poverty, destruction, and the ugly colonisation of a land at the expense of families and communities. We also saw incredible beauty, in the landscape and in the wonderful families whom we played and worked with, and who took us into their homes.

Jordan Valley is an Israeli military zone

The Jordan Valley constitutes approximately 28% of the West Bank, gradually annexed since 1967. The area has rich agricultural land, abundant water sources and is vital to the viability of any future Palestinian state, offering the only feasible entry point. 94.37% of the land is controlled by Israel, with 50% under C area designation, including all 36 settlements, and 44.37% for military purposes, including military bases and natural reserves.

It is the combination of military annexation of land and resources for “security” purposes and the prohibition of Palestinians in designated C Areas from building that has allowed for a slow exodus of the Palestinian population. While the settler population thrives, Palestinians that stay face dependency, poverty, isolation and stagnation as a result of restrictions of movement, confiscation of resources such as water and the demolition of homes. Military expropriation orders are typically used to take land for “security” reasons, which is then handed over for settlement use.

Israel has no intention of leaving

“Israel must have secure and defensible borders to ensure its future. The Jordan Valley communities are an essential element in determining the eastern border of the state. We can maintain these communities only if the residents there are encouraged and helped”. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. The securitisation and military expropriation of land has been common place, and was made clear by Netanyahu in 2001:

“They asked me before the election if I’d honour [the Oslo accords]… I said I would, but [that] I’m going to interpret the accords in such a way that would allow me to put an end to this galloping forward to the 1967 borders. How did we do it? Nobody said what defined military zones were. Defined military zones are security zones; as far as I’m concerned, the entire Jordan Valley is a defined military zone. Go argue”.

Tom Godwin is a MA Student and Palestine activist

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