The Jordan Valley has been a topic much discussed in the national and global headlines in the past couple of months. Netanyahu’s desperate pre-election scare tactics and promises of annexation of settlements in Area C put the valley and its inhabitants in the spotlight. The course organized by the Al Haq Center for Applied International Law, and it’s offer of the chance to explore the situation in the Valley from the perspective of International Law, could not have been timelier. The field visit to the Jordan Valley was but a component of the course, but it proved a memorable one.
The Jordan Valley in the Palestinian context refers to the western bank of the Jordan River. It is an important part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt) as it comprises over a fifth of its territory and contains land reserves for natural expansion of towns and cities. Additionally, it also has water resources, especially the underground Mountain Aquifer. This gives it potential for agricultural, industrial and tourism industries. Since the beginning of its military occupation in 1967, the Israeli authorities have been systematically appropriating Palestinian land for the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley, as well as unlawfully exploiting Palestinian natural resources in the area.
Due to these natural advantages it has been slowly populated by illegal Israeli settlements, mostly agricultural. There are a number of legislative measures that are taken by the state of Israel that enable it to illegally exercise sovereign rights over Palestinian water resources. Thus, Israel has exerted considerable military and political efforts (1) to gain, maintain and consolidate exclusive access to Palestinian water resources, (2) to appropriate water resources for the sole benefit of Israelis, including settlers, and (3) to paralyze Palestinian water infrastructure development in the oPt, aimed at forcibly transferring Palestinian communities. As such, these policies and practices have laid the foundations and underpin the three principal pillars of Israel’s ‘water-apartheid’. Thus, in terms of International Law, the distinct difference between water distribution between Palestinians and Israelis denotes a marked difference, for which the harsh term of water apartheid can be used.
The case of the Al Ouja water spring
The field visit took the group to the Al Ouja water spring, which has been taken over by Israeli drilling equipment (see photo 3). It illustrates the daily disparities in water distribution on the ground between Israeli settlers and Palestinian communities. The water pump is now under Israeli control and will connect to water pumps across the area. The water is distributed unequally, with 70% going to the 10,000 Israeli settlers and the rest left to the 30,000 people in Palestinian communities.This water is mainly used for small and large scale agriculture, as well as for daily needs. This disparity is enforced through discriminatory policy as well as arbitrary physical access restrictions. Since most of it is under Area C, Israel has total authority over integrated water planning for the extraction and management of water resources. This makes it virtually impossible for the Palestinian Authority (PA) to make any difference, save for mediating between Israel and Palestinian inhabitants in the Jordan Valley.
Near the water spring, in Ras Ein Al Ouja, the Bedouin community of the Jahalin tribe live in a makeshift camp. There are about 100 families living in their camp, a nomadic Bedouin community. We are told that they are originally from Beersheba and reside here as refugees, holding UNRWA refugee documents. They are proud of their lifestyle, laws and culture, similar to other Levant Bedouin communities. Therefore, the arbitrary drawing of borders and the subsequent conflicts and settlements have had a strong impact on them. A representative of the community says that the occupation has taken away a lot from their culture, they are no longer able to keep camels due to space restrictions. Access to water is a key problem for the community, as they do not have direct access, despite living close to the Al Ouja water spring. They are forced to buy their water from ‘Mekorot’, an Israeli company owned 50% by the government. This costs up to 250 NIS per day and is usually not enough to sustain the community and its activities. Most Palestinians live with less than 100 litres per capita daily, which is less than WHO recommendations and this is made even more precarious by the extreme heat and arid landscape of the Jordan Valley.
Dedicated to maintaining their Bedouin lifestyle
With such severe restrictions, there are very few options for the local Palestinian communities but to work in Israeli settlements, usually with no rights and day by day payments. Children from the community travel 15 km via their own means to reach their school, as registration complications have bound the community to be registered further away. We are told that last year the communities around Ras Ein Al Ouja wanted to build their own school, and had prepared water and foundations for the process, but this was demolished the same week. This is just another example in a long line of demolition orders for buildings in Bedouin communities, resulting in their living in constant fear of losing the roof over their heads.
While our host was gracious, welcomed us with tea and was willing to joke around and answer questions, his vision for the future remains bleak. Israel’s military is ever present, and the PA seems ineffective and unable to help. ‘We have no future and no place to go, we take it day by day’ he says. Nevertheless, he reiterates this is their lifestyle and they are adamant to keep it despite the difficulties facing their communities.
Melon, M. (2018). Settling Area C: The Jordan Valley Exposed. [online] Alhaq.org. Available at: http://www.alhaq.org/cached_uploads/download/alhaq_files/publications/SettlingAreaCTheJordanValleyExposed.pdf