On Land Day, Palestinians in Jordan Valley see their land gradually pulled from under their feet

By Isra Ghourani

Palestinian residents of al-Farisieh village in the northern Jordan Valley were surprised on Friday morning to find out that Israeli settlers have fenced dozens of dunums of their land and planted them with olive trees. This transgression on the land is part of a series of daily appropriation and infringements on land by settlers and the occupation authorities in the Jordan Valley with a goal to displace its dwellers.

Burhan Bisharat, from Khirbat Makhoul in the northern Jordan Valley, said settlers daily harass shepherds and their livestock, not to mention grabbing vast areas of pastures in order to force the locals to leave it. In one instance not too long ago, one settler fenced 800 dunums of land and cultivated as if it was his, thus narrowing the area of pastures herders have been using.

According to human rights activist Aref Daraghmeh, what is happening in the northern Jordan Valley on daily basis is part of efforts by the occupying state to force local residents to abandon their land and to expel them from their homes.

In the last two years, the settlers have taken over large areas of the eastern regions of the northern Jordan Valley, especially in the areas of Mazoukeh, Suwayda, Makhoul, Hadidiya and al-Farisieh. They have built three new settlement outposts and closed off some 40,000 dunums in the eastern region that go all the way to the Jordanian border.

With these new outposts, the number of Israeli settlements in the northern Jordan Valley would reach nine in addition to three outposts as well as eight army training camps, which control 78% of the land in the northern Jordan Valley. What was left are the villages of Ein al-Baida, Bardala and Kardala. The remaining areas are encircled by settlements and the Palestinians are left with only 8% of the land. In the Jordan Valley as a whole, there are 19 settlements and outposts and 15 army camps, said Daraghmeh.

The tactics Israel uses to grab the land are multiple, he said. In many areas, the land is first controlled by military orders and then transferred to the settlers, as was the case in Sakot. In addition, the so-called Israel nature authority closes off a large area of privately-owned land as nature reserves. Fifteen years ago, some 30,000 dunums were closed off under the pretext of turning them into a nature reserve, but later they were turned over to the settlers to graze their sheep.

The Israeli occupation authorities go further than this to displace the population and control their land through the policy of draining wells and water sources. The Israeli water distributor, Mikorot, drills deep wells leading to the drying up of the water wells used by the residents and the desertification of their lands.

Daraghmeh noted that the settlers and the Israeli soldiers complement each other in the attack on the residents of the Jordan Valley and making life difficult for them when the settlers attack the shepherds who accompany the herd to graze in the open pastures and then the soldiers intervene and arrest the shepherds and expel them from the land after forcing them to pay fines.

An estimated 15 attacks are recorded every week against Palestinian residents of the northern Jordan Valley, and there has been a marked increase in the number of attacks since the beginning of the current year, 2019.

Daraghmeh explained that the Israeli policy in the Jordan Valley is set by the settlers and all the Israeli institutions who come together to push the people out of their land in order to take it over. The Israeli occupation regards the Jordan Valley as a strategic area, rich in water and fertile land besides being a border area.

According to a report by the Israeli rights center B’Tselem, Israel seeks to abolish the Palestinian presence in the Jordan Valley and prevent any Palestinian development in the area. It prevents the Palestinians from utilizing most of the area of the Jordan Valley under various pretexts and restricts their access to the water sources in the region while preventing the Palestinian population there from building houses for themselves and from expanding and developing their towns.

In addition, adds B’Tselem, the Israeli authorities exert unrelenting effort to create unbearable living conditions to push the Palestinian communities to leave their homes and lands. The purpose of this policy is to strengthen Israeli control over the Jordan Valley and to annex it to Israel de facto while exploiting its natural resources and keeping Palestinian presence to a minimum.

B’Tselem statistics show that most of the land of the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea region is exploited by Israel for its own benefit. It prevents Palestinians from using 85% of the area, which it has declared approximately 50% of it as “state lands”, 46% as closed military zones and which includes the land extensions of the settlements, 11 firing zones, and about 20% declared as nature reserves, while the rest was declared as part of the extended area of the settlements.

(This story was directly quoted from the Palestine News and Info Agency – Wafa)

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