May 2011: Franco Dinelli (Pax Christi, Italy)

Water no longer flows down from the mountains of the West Bank. The Jordan is no more than a little stream. In 1967 around 160 wells from north to south along the west bank of the river were accessible to the valley inhabitants. Today they are all closed. The numerous small rivers flowing down from west to east towards the Jordan are now dry. Only the rocky beds remain there to testify the past presence of water. In a village, north of Jericho, the inhabitants used to freely swim where water was once copious. What is going on in the Jordan valley?

It is sufficient to move backwards from east to west and find out what is really happening. Barbed wires surround white sheds, where water is intercepted and driven into pipelines that proceed towards Jewish settlements sprung shortly after the 1967 occupation of the West Bank. Nowadays the farmers and the Bedouins are prevented from accessing some 95% of the drinkable water. If they want some of it, although they often live next to a spring or a well, they must drive their tractors with large containers and buy it from Israeli companies. Sometimes they must drive for several miles and often cross mounds artificially made with few transit points. These barriers open only twice a day and for a few minutes, at morning and at night. Once a boy remained injured after his tractor went upside down. In that precise moment the barrier was closed and his family had to wait for hours before being able to help him. One of the many fences dividing Palestine.

With no water, the Palestinians cannot cultivate their fields. The land after a period of 3 years, according to an ancient ottoman law re-established in 1978 by Israel, is withdrawn and falls in the hands of settlers. During the second Intifada, 5 permanent checkpoints were active impeding the people from Nablus and the West Bank to go and cultivate their land, then confiscated according to the law. Today only 3 checkpoints are of easy access while 2 are still working. Hamra is considered one of the worst in the West Bank. Recently a young man has been killed with no apparent reason as he was crossing it carrying a coke with an international volunteer. The settlers, on the contrary, have all the possible economic advantages and freedom of movement. The Israeli government, in order to encourage new settlers where the climate is not ideal, grants free land, seeds and trees, education and water. Also electricity is provided at a 25% cost of the actual value. It would be difficult to compete with them even for the already subventioned US and European agricultures. 98% of the products of the valley is exported to the west. The rest, not easy to sell in the west, invades the Palestinian market with such low prices to further kill the already weak Palestinian economy. While the neighbours do not have enough water to drink, the settlers have developed fish cultures, also exported to the west.

This situation explains the Diaspora slowly depleting the valley from Palestinian presence, from 600 to 300 thousands. However these are motivated not to leave. They are motivated from their love for their land but also they have no place where to take refuge. Besides Bedouins, many escaped from the villages destroyed in 1948 by the Jewish soon to become Israeli. However they still do not have the status of refugees. They are so obliged to leave like nomads as they cannot have the permission to build. Often the Israeli army comes and destroys their tents and they need to move further. Only Jericho and another small centre are zones type ‘A’, according with the Oslo agreement in 1992. That is, the inhabitants of those few square kilometres can freely build houses. Another small portion of the land is type ‘B’, here one can still build but ‘the natural growth’ has filled all the space. The rest is type ‘C’ and under total Israeli control, i.e. no building permission from the occupying authority.

Besides the intercepted water, even the wells and springs below the grey hills close to the Jordan river are used by the settlers, the only ones who can access this militarized area next to Jordan border. This stripe of land is off-limits as established for security reasons by the Allon’s Plan in 1967. An attack from Jordan is nowadays little credible, judging  from the heavy presence of cultivations next to the borders.

The precarious situation of the valley is finally under menace due to the presence of a dump, that is located near Jericho. Apparently this dump is used for any sort of trash and it is very likely polluting the final part of the river and therefore the little water flowing into the Dead Sea. Also the salty lake is under menace of a slow chemical death. Along its shores, there are many beach resorts where one can meet Russians, Indians, and any sort of tourists here courageously arrived to experiment the floating power of these salty waters. The skin is so smooth when one gets out but are not the swimmers under threat as once?

What is the future of these places? What could stop the Ethnic Cleansing, slow but inescapable? Is there any sign of hope? Yes, faint but concrete. The number of new settlers apparently is not increasing anymore. Their offspring are not indifferent to the calls of the big cities. There are settlers motivated by religious issues but many others mainly arrived due to the favourable economic conditions. Once these will lower or disappear, they will move out most likely. One can already spot empty settlements. But how to render unfavourable the situation?

Here it comes the Jordan Valley Solidarity Movement with the idea of boycotting the products from the valley, slowly spreading in the whole Europe, US and elsewhere. Besides the Palestinian farmers we can find international activists like Sarah, young French lady from Nantes who lives here since one year in a mud-brick house. They are ready to all possible occurrences in order to help those who have remained. They provide olive trees to those living next to settlements with olive orchards. They lay down black pipelines for miles bringing water from the areas still under Palestinian control. They build houses and schools with mudbricks, easier to rebuild in case the Israeli army destroys them. They manually help who is trying to establish a new activity producing vegetables or raising poultry.

We need to be aware of all I have described above when we buy goods in supermarkets and when we try to find new ways to help the Palestinian cause. A people who suffers in silence under the heat. In this regard volunteers are always welcome here. As, for example, the 10 Americans and Englishmen with dirty hands and feet, who are building a new school for a small Bedouin village. On this little building the Italian flag flows. Why? Not finished yet, it is already dedicated to the memory of ‘Vittorio Arrigoni’.

Dinelli (Pax Christi, Italy)