During a ceremony marking fifty years of settler-colonialism in the Jordan Valley (West Bank) in October, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s commitment to maintaining permanent control over the region.
Translating words into action, on November 9, 2017, Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Galant announced that the government will double the Jordan Valley settler population. To facilitate the plan, the state will encourage Israelis to move to the region through marketing campaigns and the provision of additional funds (subsidies) to settlement councils.
On the very same day, Israeli occupation forces issued demolition and eviction orders to 300 Palestinians living in two Bedouin communities in the northern Jordan Valley (Ein al-Hilweh and Umm Jamal). The two communities have lived in the area for decades and are situated on church (Catholic) property and privately-owned Palestinian land.
Occupation forces claim the orders are only “directed at illegal construction.” It appears, however, that the military is seizing space for the planned settlement expansion. The notices explicitly bar residents from entering the villages and mandates the voluntary removal of all property. What is more, in the weeks prior to the orders’ issuance, residents were subjected to military procedures that “often proceed evictions and demolitions,” such as aerial photography and the gathering of ID card information.
For Israel, the Jordan Valley is an “inseparable part” of the state. Politicians across the political spectrum have supported its colonization and de facto annexation, from the very beginning of the occupation. During the 1967 war, for example, the Jordan Valley, excluding Jericho, was ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian inhabitants, in order to create a buffer zone with Jordan. Since then, most of the land in the West Bank’s eastern strip has been appropriated and declared state property (or closed military zones), mainly through manipulative interpretations of Ottoman-era land codes.
94% of the Jordan Valley currently falls under Area C of the West Bank, an administrative division under full Israeli military rule according to the Oslo II agreement (1995). Almost forty Israeli colonies, including “unauthorized” outposts, now dominate the landscape and its resources. Indeed, the territory is largely off limits to Palestinian use and development, with the vast majority of land allocated to Israeli settlers.
Israel insists its actions in the valley are necessitated by security concerns, and that the valley is a crucial part of its “strategic defensive belt.” In reality, however, Israeli control of the area is a frontline attack against the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. It is also a critical foundation for the economic exploitation of the 1967 territories.
The Jordan Valley is essential for an economically independent Palestinian state. It makes up more than a quarter of the West Bank’s total area and is the most fertile land in the territory, with abundant water resources and ideal climatic conditions for year-round agricultural cultivation. In addition, the valley is home to dozens of archaeological and historical sites, like the city of Jericho, while the Jordan River and Dead Sea attract thousands of tourists every year. The Dead Sea is also rich in rare salts and minerals valuable to businesses and other industries.
Israeli restrictions in the valley are designed to prevent Palestinians from exploiting these resources and, instead, are aimed at facilitating Israeli access to the region. Indeed, Israel’s exploitation of the region has yielded significant profits. According to estimates, the Jordan Valley brings in NIS $500 million ($130 million) in annual revenue.
Israeli settlements effectively control over 85% of the Jordan Valley, including its water resources. As a result of large-scale land confiscation, enforced water scarcity, and the resulting decimation of the Palestinian agricultural sector, farmers are forced to work in settlements as laborers. What is more, Israel has authority over all crossing points and denies Palestinians the freedom to travel. This means Palestinian farmers face heavy obstacles getting their produce to market and must sell directly to Israeli companies.
While Israel insists it is enforcing law and order in the Jordan Valley, in reality, it is carrying out a policy of dispossession, ethnic cleansing, and economic exploitation against the Palestinians.