Palestinians fear displacement from an annexed Jordan Valley

Palestinians fear displacement from an annexed Jordan Valley

FASAYIL, West Bank (AP) – For generations, the people of Fasayil herded animals on the rugged cliffs and palm-shaded lowlands of the Jordan Valley. Today, almost every man in the Palestinian village works for Jewish settlers in the sprawling modern farms to the north and south.

The meadows to the west and east, which lead to the banks of the Biblical Jordan, have been swallowed up by the settlements or shielded by the Israeli army. So instead of leading sheep to pasture, the men get up before dawn to work in the settlements for about $ 3 an hour – or they leave.

“Everyone here works in the settlements, there is nothing else,” said Iyad Taamra, a village council member who runs a small grocery store. “If you have some money, go somewhere else where there is a future.”

Palestinians fear that communities in the Jordan Valley will suffer the same fate if Israel continues to plan to annex the territory, which covers about a quarter of the occupied West Bank and was once thought to be the breadbasket of a future Palestinian state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to annex the valley and all distant settlements of the West Bank, in line with President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan, which overwhelmingly favors Israel and has been rejected by Palestinians. The trial could begin as early as July 1.

Netanyahu has said that Israel will annex the country, but not the people who trust it, by telling an Israeli newspaper that they will remain in an “enclave” under limited self-government, with Israel maintaining security.

Few, if any, Palestinians would get citizenship, which would make their legal status uncertain. In a region that is highly dependent on agriculture, the loss of agricultural land and pasture can compel many to move.

Shaul Arieli, a retired Israeli military commander who worked on border demarcation during the peace process in the 1990s, estimates that Palestinians would lose up to 70,000 acres (280 square kilometers) of private land. He expects Israel to carve out a new 200-kilometer (124 mi) border between the Jordan Valley and the rest of the West Bank, and a 60-kilometer (37 mi) border around the Palestinian city of Jericho.

He based his conclusions on maps of Netanyahu and the White House, showing that Israel is expanding sovereignty over much of the country and leaving the most populous areas beyond its borders.

Itay Epshtain, a special adviser to the Norwegian Refugee Council, said that once the Israeli courts are formally no longer required to consider international laws related to military occupation, Palestinians would lose some of the limited protection they have.

“Palestinians without a marital status in Israel, who are not under the authority of the military commander, could neither stand before the Supreme Court, nor have the opportunity to challenge government decisions,” he said.

The Jordan Valley is home to about 60,000 Palestinians, according to the UN, but nearly 90% of the country is part of what is known as Area C, the three-fifths of the West Bank that is fully under Israeli control. In the Jordan Valley, it includes closed military areas and about 50 agricultural settlements where about 12,000 Israelis live.

Palestinians are excluded from those areas, and even on the land they own, they are prohibited from digging wells or building any kind of infrastructure without hard-to-obtain military permits. From 2009 to 2016, less than 2% of the more than 3,300 permit applications in Area C were successful, according to Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement group, citing official statistics.

Everything that is being built without a permit, from home extensions to tents, animal shelters and irrigation networks, is in danger of being demolished by the Israeli military.

“If you dig a well, they will come the next day and fill it with concrete,” said Hani Saida, a farmer from the city of al-Auja. “They can annex this area, but they will never give us equal rights. They keep trying to scare us away. “

COGAT, the Israeli military body that oversees civil matters in the West Bank, declined to comment.

Abdul-Malik al-Jaber, a Canadian-Palestinian businessman and chairman of a large company dating back to the Jordan Valley, says obtaining permits is a “nightmare” even for large investors.

“A normal, simple farmer can in no way afford the costs and complications,” he said.

Al-Jaber said his company has spent the past two months and about $ 35,000 trying to obtain a permit to build a modern factory for packing dates on the land he owns. He was told that the Israeli military considers it a training ground, even though farmers live there and work the land.

He fears that annexation will only make things more difficult by shutting down employees of the company’s fields and factories and further complicating the export process.

Israel’s annexation plans have sparked international outcry, with European and Arab countries warning that it would violate international law and threaten the remaining hope of a two-state solution.

However, the response is softer in the Jordan Valley and elsewhere in the West Bank.

“From 1967 to today, drinking water, agricultural water, the border, the crossings, the roads, the lands of the government in Area C between the villages and the towns, the entrances to the towns – they are all under Israeli control,” said Mohannad Saida, Hani’s cousin.

“Nothing will change,” he said.

He said his family owns about 750 acres (3 sq km) north of al-Auja, to the banks of the Jordan. They fled during the 1967 war, when Israel conquered the West Bank of Jordan and their land was closed off as a military zone.

Over the years, they drove into the hills to look down over the land. About 15 years ago, they saw rows of freshly planted date palms, an extension of a nearby settlement.

A few years later, a family member who worked as a bulldozer driver was able to enter the area for an Israeli construction project. He took pictures of the mud houses where their ancestors were born and raised.

“We have seen our mud houses,” said Saida. “They are still standing.”

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Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Fasayil, West Bank contributed to this report.

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