It takes a while to fully process what is going on. The past few weeks have been a blur of preparation, meetings, Arabic lessons, lies to parents (sorry mum, I’m afraid this isn’t Turkey), 30+ hour coach journeys, Lonely Planet guides, and border crossings. As such, it is only when we are actually in the taxi with Fathe that it finally hits me that we’re in the Jordan Valley, West Bank, Palestine.
Fathe is a rich vein of information, and is truly passionate about the situation the Palestinians of this region have been forced into. As we travel round, I pick up some crucial background about the Jordan Valley.
Described as “the bread basket of Palestine”, the Jordan Valley is an incredibly fertile stretch of the West Bank. At between 100 and 350 meters below sea level, the climate is the warmest in the region, and there has been plenty of water supplied by the underground streams and the river Jordan. It is also an incredibly beautiful place to live.
Unfortunately, this has proven to be a curse rather than a blessing for the Palestinians inhabiting the region. The Israeli government have planted over 1 million Palm trees in the region (with a further 3 million planned), and are currently doing everything they can to ensure complete and utter control of the region.
Plantation after plantation shoots past the windows, trees in uniform line after uniform line, Fathe informs us that Israel’s current plans will require 10 million cubic meters of water. If the plantations continue to grow at the planned rate, they will actually run the Dead Sea completely dry within 20 years.
There are currently 52,000 Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley. 40 years ago, there were 200,000. The West Bank itself has been split up into 3 different areas:
Area A: Palestinian Control
Area B: Joint Palestinian and Israeli Control
Area C: Israeli Control
The first place we visit is the village of Zebedad was Area C, and we instantly get a feel for what this means in practical terms. Sitting round drinking tea in the only house in the village with a garden, we ask the villagers about their life.
The “founders” of Zebedad were actually Palestinian refugees from 1948. Jordan agreed to exchange each person’s UN refugee card for 10 Dumums of land and 15 sheep, and dug the resulting village of 300 a small well, about 80 meters deep. 60 years on, and the population has swelled to 1800, whilst the Israelis have confiscated 80% of the land. The entire area of the village is now limited by the Israeli government to roughly 3 football pitches, and the Palestinians are not allowed to extend or even repair their buildings. In order to reach the land which they are still allowed to farm upon, the farmers must cross the (virtually unused) main road, but the Israelis own the road, and have declared it closed between 6pm and 6 am. This acts as a work curfew: if a farmer fails to get back across to his home before the road closure, he will have to sleep in the fields overnight.
As part of the restriction on building, the village is not allowed to establish a sewage reservoir, and many of the villagers have gotten sick, after the well became contaminated. To make things worse, the intensive agriculture around the region has caused the water table to sink, so that the well itself no longer yields fresh water even when not contaminated. The villagers therefore have to buy water off the Israelis, but are limited to 6 liters an hour, which can only provide sufficient drinking water for 92 people a day.
Brighton-Tubas Friendship and Solidarity Group