After being out for three months as fbrewers in Palestine and Israel can I state that the development in the Jordan Valley, on the av Israel occupied The West Bank, is worrying. New Israeli outposts and reclassification of land makes it difficult to consider what is happening as anything other than annexation. It writes Carl-Magnus Träff, political scientist and former companion.
An important part of the companion mission is to report incidents in the form of human rights violations. In view of these violations, developments in the Jordan Valley are worrying. Our group of Companions was the 87th since the program started in 2002. We had a dismal record in incidents, with a total of 679 reported violations, 387 of which came from my team in the Jordan Valley. It is obvious that the valley is a "hotspot" in the West Bank, but what is hidden behind the numbers?
Based on my experience in the field, I see two main reasons for the record high number of violations: a large number of new Israeli outposts and the Israeli authorities' reclassification of land areas that have long been used by Palestinians for housing and agriculture.
All Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal under international law, but outposts are illegal as well according to Israeli law. Outposts can consist of a caravan or individual houses, as a precursor to an established settlement. All Israeli settlements have started as outposts before being recognized by Israeli authorities. As companions, we have seen that in some places Israeli authorities have acted against outposts and, for example, removed buses and tents that constituted an outpost. In other places, the outposts have been left alone, and in some places the military cooperates with settlers in the outpost.
Settlers in outposts are usually strongly ideologically motivated. An example of this is an outpost, established in 2022 at the Palestinian community of Ein Shibli in the Jordan Valley, where a settler lives with his family. During our three months on site, he expanded the outpost with several houses. An elderly Palestinian woman, Aisha Shtayed, showed us videos of how the settler beat her, resulting in several broken ribs. We have also been present when the settler and his friends have tried to steal the sheep of Palestinian shepherds. In addition, a new outpost at the community of Humsa al-Foqa had been established, and Palestinians living nearby have been subjected to abuse and theft. Israeli military and police have taken no action against the on paper illegal outpost, or the settler harassment. The military instead visited Aisha and her husband Nabil, after the settler accused them of pumping water without permission from the authorities.
Israeli military areas create problems for the Palestinian population
Israeli authorities have designated 45 percent of the Jordan Valley as “closed military areas". Residents of Palestinian communities located in, or near, the areas testified to repeated military exercises that disturb sleep at night and damage farmland. The firefighters at the station in the community of Bardala said that they risk arrest when they, as Palestinians, enter the military areas to put out fires caused by the exercises.
The rules surrounding military areas are often not applied equally to Palestinians and Israeli settlers. Along route 90 one day we encountered some Palestinian shepherds from the community of Marj Na'ja, and some Israeli soldiers. The shepherds risked having their car impounded because they were inside a military area, even though they had watered their cows there for years. When we met the shepherds again, they explained that a settler from a nearby outpost had forced them away from the waterhole. According to the map, the outpost, which was established in October 2022, is further into the military area than where the shepherds' car was parked. Despite this, the settler has been allowed to build a five kilometer water pipeline to the outpost.
There are more land classifications that affect the Palestinian population, such as nature reserves and archaeological sites. In the community of 'Ein ad Duyuk al Fauqa, Israeli authorities have designated the mountain area behind the community as a nature reserve and banned Palestinians from herding sheep in the area. Mohamed Rashaida, a resident of the area, explains that the population is convinced that the camera the authorities have set up is to monitor them, and not the bird life as the authorities said. We also spoke to Mahyoub Elamur in the community of Khirbet Samra, who told us that an Israeli settler took over his land for farming, after Mahyoub was forced out by Israeli authorities, declaring it a nature reserve. It should also be noted that very few of the reserves have been made ready for visitors, and that a quarter of them too are military firing ranges.
When the archaeological unit within Civil Administration of Israel designating a site as an archaeological site limits Palestinians' use of the land. The Jordan Valley is full of historical sites and it is difficult to get clarity on why the authority designates specific locations as excavation areas. Previous studies of the actions of the authorities have shown that proper documentation has only existed for 15 percent of the excavations.
Karima Bsharat, a single elderly woman, lives in a part of the Palestinian community of Humsa designated as an excavation site. Excavations have not started, but her house has had a demolition order on it for several years. Israeli authorities are making inspections to see that she has not made any additions, inspections that have intensified since her neighbors restored a mud house destroyed by the spring rains. Karima does not even dare to plant out the flowers that she has pushed up in pots. During our time in the field, new excavations also began in Khirbet Samra, something the residents fear will lead to Israeli authorities blocking the only entrance to the community.
From the above, it can be concluded that the annexation plans for the Jordan Valley, like the previous one Netanyahu-led government put forward but withdrew, now being implemented in practice. However, it is not too late to stop the development, but then the situation needs to be noticed and other countries must put pressure on the Israeli government on the matter.