by Isra Ghourani, WAFA 

On Friday morning, Palestinian residents of al-Farisieh village, in the northern Jordan Valley, were surprised to find out that Israeli settlers had fenced dozens of dunams 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 that settlers harass shepherds and their livestock on a daily basis, not to mention the grabbing of vast areas of pasture in order to force the locals to leave it. In one instance, not too long ago, one settler fenced off 800 dunams of land and cultivated it as if it were his own, thus narrowing the area of pasture the herders have been using.

According to human rights activist Aref Daraghmeh, what is happening in the northern Jordan Valley 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 dunams, in the eastern region, that stretch 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, all of which oversee some 78% of the land in the northern Jordan Valley. What is 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 Israeli “nature authority” closes off a large area of privately-owned land as nature reserves. Fifteen years ago, some 30,000 dunams were closed off under the pretext of turning them into a nature reserve. But, later, they were turned over to the settlers, for grazing their own sheep.

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 those used by the residents, and the desertification of their lands.

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

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

Daraghmeh explained that Israeli policy in the Jordan Valley is set by the settlers and all of 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 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 Palestinians from utilizing most of the area in 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, B’Tselem notes, Israeli authorities exert unrelenting effort to create unbearable living conditions, to push 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 the Palestinian presence to a minimum.

B’Tselem statistics show that most of the land in 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, of which approximately 50% has been declared to be “state lands”, 46% as closed military zones and which include the land extensions of the settlements, 11 firing zones, and about 20% are declared as nature reserves, while the rest is declared as part of the extended area of the settlements.

(edited for the IMEMC by c h r i s @ i m e m c . o r g)

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