The Israeli military has imposed a total closure on the Jordan Valley area of the Palestinian West Bank since 2005, literally cutting off 2 million Palestinians from their sources of livelihood in the Valley.
While military sources say there is no political intent to the measure, and that it is merely for ‘security purposes’, critics note that the closure fits perfectly with a political plan exposed last week by the acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in which he stated that Israel plans to take over the Jordan Valley, in the eastern part of the West Bank, and annex it for Israel.
A recent United Nations report revealed that some 2,000,000 Palestinians residents of the West Bank are prohibited from entering the Jordan Valley area.
The area constitutes around one-third of the West Bank, and includes the Jordan Rift, the area along the Dead Sea shoreline, and the eastern slopes of the West Bank mountains.
An Israeli military official told the Israeli online daily Haaretz that the move was carried out under the pretext of "security measures", and that it is not politically motivated.
Restrictions on the movement of the Palestinians in the Jordan Valley were imposed at the beginning of the Palestinian Intifada in 2000, and were gradually extended. But the major prohibition that was imposed on the Palestinians was applied after the security responsibility for the Jericho area was supposedly handed over to the Palestinian Authority on March 16, 2005.
Since then, Palestinian travelers coming across the Allenby Bridge (the West Bank’s only direct foreign access point) were barred from passing through the Jordan Valley even if they were heading to the northern West Bank and the villages adjacent to the valley’s checkpoints.
Instead, travellers are ordered to go through the West Bank city of Jericho, and from there, the road is long and filled with checkpoints and delays.
In the same manner, residents of Jericho and the remainder of the West Bank have been banned from passing through the Ouja checkpoint, north of Jericho, in the direction of the Jordan Valley.
This prohibition also applies to thousands of residents of towns and villages in the northern of the West Bank, like Tubas and Tammoun, who own lands in the Jordan Valley, and have been living there for many years. Residents of villages in the Jordan Valley are tied to the northern West Bank villages through family connections, joint land ownership, work, schooling, medical and social services.
Among those who are affected by the ban are people who for years have earned a living by doing seasonal agricultural work for Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, as well as thousands of Bedouins and shepherds who live permanently in tents and makeshift structures; they are registered as residents of towns and villages a few kilometers to the east.
Several reports, including one by The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, B’Tselem, have revealed that four permanent Israeli military checkpoints in the eastern part of the West Bank ensure that passage is denied to Palestinians whose identity cards do not list them as permanent residents of the Jordan Valley.
Entry is permitted only to a few thousand holders of special permits from the Civil Administration, as well as some 5,000 Palestinians who work in the 19 Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley.
Israeli online daily Haaretz reported that nearly 1,500 Palestinian residents who hold Civil Administration permits (valid for three months and not always extended) are residents of the area around Tubas; they who own land and work in the Jordan Valley. Several hundred residents who are teachers, health workers, traders and drivers receive these permits.
According to Haaretz, one-way entry permits are granted for "humanitarian cases" weddings, other family affairs, funerals and so on. Applications must be made in advance with the Civil Administration and the military.
To enforce the ban, Israel soldiers frequently carry out nighttime invasions in the Jordan Valley villages. Palestinians who are not registered as residents of the area are taken by the soldiers beyond the Tiaseer checkpoint and dropped off there. Troops also confiscate the identity cards of Palestinians who have the "incorrect" address.
Israeli army sources, who confirmed the above, mentioned restrictions on Palestinian movement in the Jordan Valley, claiming that ‘it is the only way to protect an area as large as the Jordan Valley’. The source added that these procedures are needed to protect the settlers who use Road Nr. 90 in the area, and described the route as a “strategic route”.
The Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley, for whom such ‘protection’ is purportedly prescribed, have been built illegally on Palestinian land in the area since 1993. The ‘protection’ is carried out by to imposing limitations on the movement of Palestinians in the area, and installing checkpoints to control the traffic on all local roads.