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Emptying the valley

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Article/book #: 37162
Title: Emptying the valley
By: Graham Usher  
Published in: Al-Ahram Weekly, issue 381
Date of issue: Thursday, 11 June 1998
Topic(s) addressed: Place(s) mentioned in this item:


Despite living in the most fertile basin of the Jordan Valley (the Jiflik area provides 70 per cent of all the West Bank's agricultural produce during the winter season), Jiflik's Palestinians live in conditions of utter poverty. Since 1967, their main domicile, nestled between the West Bank's eastern slopes and the Jordan River, has been less a village than an ad hoc encampment made up of mudbrick shacks protected by plastic wind-breakers and the occasional corrugated roof.

The shacks have a water supply but "the pipes are disintegrating," says Mohamed Omar Jahalin (Abu Omar), head of Jiflik's Project Committee.

There is no electricity, forcing the residents to use kerosene lamps for heat in the winter and small generators to keep the flies off the food in the summer. For the entire encampment, there is one preparatory school and one clinic. "A dog in his kennel gets better infrastructure than we do," says Abu Omar.

One cause for such misery are the feudal-like property relations that still obtain in the Jordan Valley. Jiflik's Palestinians are either seasonal labourers or sharecroppers who work for the "elite" Palestinian families who own the 20,000 or so dunums that make up the Jiflik area.

As tenant farmers, they pay half the expenses for the equipment they use and receive half of all profits from the, mainly vegetable, crops sold. But they have no say over which crops should be planted, an economic arrangement that perpetuates low wages and makes the croppers vulnerable to any change in the vegetable market.

But the principle cause of the immiseration is Israel's policies in the Jordan valley. "Israel has long had a strategy of ethnic cleansing in the Valley," says Palestinian Authority (PA) Agriculture Minister Abdel-Jawad Salah. Whether the government is Labour or Likud, Israel's strategy is for the Valley to become a "purely Jewish" territory, he adds.

"By keeping hold of the Jordan Valley, Israel ensures that any future Palestinian entity will be separated from its Arab hinterland," Salah says. "And, because the Valley is a natural greenhouse with fresh water, Israel wants to keep such fertile land for itself."

It is not a new policy. Ninety per cent of Jiflik's Palestinians are refugees from the Beersheba area in the Negev who fled to the Jordan Valley in 1948. In 1967, an estimated 40,000 Palestinians from Jiflik were expelled for a second time across the Jordan River when Israel occupied the West Bank. Since then, Israel has rigorously blocked any attempted development by or for those Palestinians who remained. "We were never allowed to build houses or provide any services for the encampment," says Abu Omar. "[But] at least the shepherds could let their sheep and goats graze on the hills and, when all else failed, we could work in Israel."

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