In the Jordan Valley , the eastern strip of the West Bank, Israel has instituted a regime of permits and harsh restrictions on the movement of Palestinians. These actions have, in effect, served to annex the area to Israel . This is the essential finding of research recently conducted by B'Tselem.
As a rule, the army forbids the entry of Palestinians to the Jordan Valley . Only Palestinians listed as residents of the area are allowed to enter. Severing the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank severely violates the human rights of the Palestinian population. The action has been taken although the government has made no decision in the matter, and without informing the public.
The eastern strip of the West Bank is 120 kilometers long, and runs from the northern Dead Sea , in the south, to the Green Line south of Beit She'an, in the north. It is fifteen kilometers wide. Some 47,000 Palestinians live in this area in about twenty permanent communities, including the city of Jericho . Thousands more live in temporary communities.
Since the occupation of the West Bank began, in 1967, every Israeli government has considered this strip to be the "eastern border" of Israel and has sought to annex it.
To strengthen its hold over this area, since the early 1970s, Israel has established in the Jordan Valley twenty-six settlements and five Nahal brigade encampments, which contain 7,500 residents. Over the years, most of the strip has been declared state land and assigned within the jurisdictional area of the Arvot Hayarden and Megillot regional councils, in which framework most of the settlements in the area function. As part of the Oslo Agreements, this strip, except for the enclave around Jericho , was classified as Area C, in which Israel has complete control. Recently, Israel 's acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, stated in a TV interview that the Jordan Valley will remain under Israeli control in any future diplomatic agreement.
Israel initially planned to construct an eastern barrier to separate the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank . These plans were abandoned following international criticism of the route of the Separation Barrier as a whole, and the High Court of Justice's decision of June 2004. It is now apparent that what Israel was unable to achieve by a separation barrier is being realized through other means. For several months, Israel has instituted a regime of permits and harsh restrictions on the movement of Palestinians. These acts have served as a substitute for the construction of a physical barrier, creating a situation in the Jordan Valley almost identical to that of the "seam zone" between the separation barrier and the Green Line.
In recent years, Israel has set up seven permanent checkpoints west of the Jordan Valley and north of the Dead Sea, four of them around the Jericho enclave. In 2005, the army placed much harsher restrictions on Palestinians wanting to cross these checkpoints. In response to an inquiry by B'Tselem, which the organization received in January 2006, the IDF Spokesperson's Office stated that crossing these checkpoints is allowed, in general, only to residents of the Jordan Valley whose identity cards indicate that they live in one of the villages in the valley. Other residents of the West Bank are allowed to cross only if they have a special permit issued by the Civil Administration. Only in "humanitarian cases," can Palestinians cross without a permit This prohibition does not apply to Palestinians wanting to enter Jericho, but travel from Jericho north to other parts of the valley, including travel by residents of Jericho, is forbidden except by permit. "Palestinians caught in the Jordan Valley without a permit," the IDF Spokesperson's Office said, "are handed over to the police."
The response of the IDF Spokesperson's Office made a distinction between the " territory of Judea and Samaria " (i.e. the West Bank) and "the Jordan Valley ," indicating that Israel does not view the two areas as a single territorial unit. B'Tselem wrote to the IDF's legal advisor for the West Bank to ascertain the grounds for this distinction, and to learn if military orders had been issued to formalize the closing of the Jordan Valley to Palestinians and the arrest of persons who remain there without a permit. To date, B'Tselem has not received a reply to its inquiry.
Severing the eastern strip from the rest of the West Bank severely violates the human rights of Palestinians. Route 90, which runs the length of the Jordan Valley , was once the main traffic artery connecting the northern part of the West Bank to Jericho and the Allenby bridge, which is the sole crossing point between the West Bank and Jordan and the rest of the world. With the outbreak of the intifada, the army prohibited private Palestinian vehicles from using this road, except for taxis and vehicles that received special permits. Since the closing of the Jordan Valley , in 2005, Palestinian traffic has been directed to side roads, which increases travel time and expense.
Palestinians living outside the Jordan Valley , who have farmland inside the valley, are now separated from their land. Regarding this group, the IDF Spokesperson's Office stated that, "there is no specific procedure' but their passage is allowed, as it is for all residents of the West Bank , on the basis of the permits' in accordance with the relevant procedures." These procedures have never been made public. B'Tselem's research indicates that Palestinians who live in villages bordering the valley and have farmland there, or are employed in agriculture in the area, have lost their source of livelihood.
The IDF makes it very hard for residents of Palestinian villages north of the Jericho enclave to host their relatives and friends who live outside the Jordan Valley or in Jericho . Events such as weddings and funerals have become almost impossible. Women who married valley residents and moved there, but did not change their address in their identity cards, cannot leave their villages without fear that they will not be allowed to return to their homes. Also, service providers and delivery trucks no longer have access to these villages.
The Dead Sea area is known as a unique nature and vacation site. The northeastern section of the Dead Sea lies inside the West Bank . However, the Dead Sea is detached from the rest of the West Bank, including from the Jordan Valley , and the IDF prohibits Palestinians from traveling there. The Dead Sea is also an economic resource of major importance for industry and tourism, but the restrictions imposed by Israel have denied Palestinians the opportunity to utilize this resource.
Israel 's permit regime in the eastern strip of the West Bank, together with statements of senior officials, give the impression that the motive underlying Israel 's policy is not based on military-security needs, but is political: the de facto annexation of the Jordan Valley . This annexation, similar to the de facto annexation of broad tracts of land west of the separation barrier, constitutes a flagrant breach of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.