The ethnic cleansing of the Jordan Valley

Israel/Palestine
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Consider the following quotation, taking into account its moral, political and legal implications:

‘You don’t simply bundle people onto trucks and drive them away … I prefer to advocate a more positive policy, to create, in effect, a condition that in a positive way will induce people to leave’ (PDF)

This is Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister of Israel, speaking about the Palestinians who inhabit Israel’s most prized territory after Jerusalem — the Jordan Valley. Just over a quarter of the West Bank and stretching 70km along the River Jordan from the Dead Sea in the south to Israel’s border in the north, the Jordan Valley is now home to some 50,000 Palestinians and over 9,000 Israeli-Jewish settlers, who live in what one Palestinian NGO described as ‘Parallel Realities’.

Jordan Valley 1
(Map: ARIJ) Click to enlarge.

Israel has long-coveted the Jordan Valley. Shortly after the Knesset approved Oslo II, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared, “the security border to protect the State of Israel will be set in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of this term.” The view of this supposedly ‘liberal Zionist’ PM is mirrored by that of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who declared that the army “must remain along the Jordan River in any future agreement.” Reflecting the prioritisation of the Jordan Valley even over other settlement areas in the West Bank, settlers receive exorbitant incentives to move there. Israel has declared the entire West Bank, or Judea and Samaria as it stubbornly refers to it, as a ‘National Priority Area’ bringing subsidies for housing, free education and tax cuts, whilst settlers told Ma’an Development Center that the Jordan Valley remains the cheapest to move to through incentives.

The dichotomy in living standards between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the West Bank has drawn a series of analogies between the Jewish state and the apartheid state of South Africa. John Dugard, who hails from the latter and was UN special rapporteur to the Palestinian territories, has called for the International Court of Justice to rule on whether apartheid is practised there or not, and his views have been echoed by Richard A. Falk, his successor in the UN role. Yet in the Jordan Valley, elements of Israel’s policy clearly go far beyond the legal definition of apartheid. The annexation of territory and imposition of impossible living standards on the Palestinians forcing them to move most closely resembles ethnic cleansing. Or as Ariel Sharon euphemistically puts it in the earlier quotation, Israel is “inducing people to leave”.

Accusations of ethnic cleansing have also been levelled against Israel, albeit with less coverage than the apartheid analogy. Richard Falk has asked that the ICJ investigate Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, whilst Israeli historian and political activist Ilan Pappe, author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, has persuasively argued that actions by Jewish paramilitaries to forcibly transfer 700,000 Palestinians during 1947-49 merit the label of ‘ethnic cleansing’. The term is gaining ground. Given there are several reports of forced displacement and transfer of Palestinians from the Jordan Valley into other areas of Palestine, it would appear that ethnic cleansing may be taking place in that region through the slow and silent destruction of the means of life for Palestinians.

The legal definition of ethnic cleansing is somewhat vague. Unlike the crime of apartheid, which is mentioned in several conventions of international law and the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court, there is no widely acknowledged prohibition on ethnic cleansing. Palestinian legal monitor Al Haq has argued, ‘It seems that “ethnic cleansing” is a composite term that covers various violations of IHL (International Humanitarian Law), such as the grave breach of “unlawful deportation or transfer” of a civilian (Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention).’ As previously mentioned, UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk has used the term to describe Israel’s policy of creating an ethnically-pure or Jewish-dominated East Jerusalem, whilst the UN Security Council has passed resolutions condemning ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. Additionally, the International Criminal Court regards ‘forcible transfer of population’ as a crime against humanity. When this transfer is based on ethnic criteria as in East Jerusalem, it could be argued ethnic cleansing has occurred. In the former Yugoslavia the ethnic cleansing was not just confined to massacres but as the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia stated, “Serb municipal authorities and Serb forces created severe living conditions for Muslims and Croats which aimed, and succeeded, in making it practically impossible for most of them to remain.” This is Israel’s policy in the Jordan Valley.

A series of policies combine to make life as difficult as possible in the Eastern portion of the West Bank along the Jordan, including restricting movement, healthcare, water resources and stifling economic development. The combination of policies has been described by the UN’s Human Rights Council as having a devastating effect. With reference to Area C, which comprises 95% of the Jordan Valley, ‘79% of the communities surveyed recently do not have enough nutritious food; this is a rate higher than in blockaded Gaza, where it is 61%.’ Ma’an Development have carried out numerous highly informative reports on the Jordan Valley region, where they have described a contrast between Israeli settlers and Palestinians that is even more acute than the rest of the West Bank.

Ma’an reports that, ‘While the Israeli settlers benefit from generous aid from the Israeli government, Palestinians are nearly completely prevented from any sort of development in 95% of the Jordan Valley.’ Within Area C Palestinians are prevented from constructing any form of permanent structure. When they do, demolition orders are issued, and often followed through. 1,663 Palestinian structures were demolished by Israel in the Jordan Valley between 2000 and 2007, permanently displacing some 31% of Palestinians. This policy is enacted only against the ethnic group of Palestinians, not against the settlers who are encouraged to live there.

Schools and homes in the Area C Jordan Valley must be built from mud and tin, ramshackle dwellings that can scarcely represent a decent standard of living in any community. Furthermore, whilst the Jordan Valley is rich in water a third of Palestinians have none available, contrasting the settlers who use an average of over 400 litres per person per day. The World Health Organization state that 100 litres per day is necessary to sustain human life, yet Israel’s destruction of 140 Palestinian wells since its occupation began in 1967 whilst prohibiting any Palestinian use of water from the Jordan River has meant many Palestinians in the Jordan Valley live on around 10 litres per day, posing serious health risks. The UN’s Human Rights Council has noted how this water shortage leads to frequent and sometimes deadly outbreaks of diarrhoea amongst Palestinian children.

The Israeli settlements, whilst enjoying generous housing subsidies of up to 95% in addition to free education (including transport), have a destructive effect on their surrounding Palestinian villages. Near the settlement of Yitav, Palestinian canals run dry nine months of the year as settlements use all the water for agriculture. These conditions have created conditions that are barely habitable for the Palestinians there, and have forced many to move. The restrictions on movement, with no Palestinian even allowed to visit the Jordan Valley unless they possess an address there, has contrasted with the constant influx of Jewish settlers into the area. In addition, the Israeli military have refused to amend the population register (violating the Oslo accords) in the area since 2000, meaning newly married couples cannot legally live together in the Jordan.

It is imperative to note these contrasts and dichotomies between the two communities in the Jordan revolve around one distinction: one community is Jewish-Israeli, the other Arab-Palestinian. The racial policies of the state of Israel have taken on extreme dimensions in the Jordan Valley, accelerating to the stage where Palestinians are being forcibly displaced from the region in order to accommodate more and more settlements which are universally regarded as illegal (except of course by Israel). This calculated and systematic attempt at imposing unbearable conditions on the Palestinians to force them to leave has the goal of creating an ethnically-pure Jewish region in the Jordan Valley.

If final status negotiations are ever to come about, Israel will hope to have ethnically cleansed enough Palestinians from the Jordan in order to cut off the region’s natural resources, tourist sites and crucially, the border with the state of Jordan. Confined to their Area A cities by internal movement restrictions, the Palestinians will be within Bantustans in one great Israeli state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, with any semblance of a contiguous Palestinian homeland completely killed off. Unless the international community begins to pay proper regard to Israel’s crimes against humanity, including colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing, then this unpleasant hypothesis may become an actuality.

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