The Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea span some 160,000 hectares, comprising almost 30% of the West Bank. In 2016, approximately 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 settlers lived there. Almost 90% of this region has been designated Area C, the West Bank land which remains under full Israeli control, and constitutes nearly 40% of all Area C. The remaining 10% of the region is home to Palestinian communities, including the city of Jericho, which have been designated Area A or B. As these communities are surrounded by Area C land, they are cut off from each other.
The Jordan Valley is a fertile strip of land that runs along the West Bank, east of the central highlands. Sparsely populated, it has many open, undeveloped areas. As such, this area is the largest land reserve for future development of the West Bank. It could serve to create urban centers; develop advanced agriculture for export; develop energy project and industry.
Instead, however, Israel exploits almost all of the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea for its own needs and bars Palestinians from entering or using about 85% of the area: be it for construction, laying infrastructure, shepherding or farming.
The legal grounds cited for this sweeping ban vary. So much so that, in some cases, the same land has been given several different designations. Almost 50% of the area are defined as “state land” – more than half of which were already designated as such under Jordanian rule, before Israel occupied the area in 1967; about 46% of area have been declared closed military zones, including the municipal jurisdictions of Israeli settlements and 11 firing zones; some 20% of the area have been declared nature reserves; and other areas have been allocated to settlements’ regional councils.
Israel compels Palestinians to remain within the narrow confines of their communities and prevents virtually all Palestinian construction in Area C. The Civil Administration – the branch of the Israeli military designated to handle civil matters in Area C – issues almost no building permits, whatever the purpose: be it for housing, agricultural construction, public buildings or infrastructure. Left with no other choice, Palestinians undertake construction without permits. The CA then issues – and sometimes carries out – demolition orders for these structures. Even when orders are issued but not executed, residents live their lives in a constant state of uncertainty.
B’Tselem has monitored demolitions carried out over the years, counting at least 698 Palestinian residential units demolished by the CA in the Jordan Valley from the January 2006 through September 2017. The demolished structures were home to at least 2,948 Palestinians, at least 1,334 of whom were minors. Of these, 783 Palestinians (including 386 minors) had their homes demolished at least twice. From January 2012 to through September 2017, the CA also demolished at least 806 non-residential units, including agricultural structures.
The ban on Palestinian construction and development in the Jordan Valley takes a particularly harsh toll on the roughly 10,000 residents of more than 50 Palestinian communities in Area C that Israel is attempting by various means to drive from their homes and land. The authorities deny these communities any possibility whatsoever of lawful construction to meet the needs of their population, and refuse to connect them to water and power supplies. These communities rely on the scant rainfall in the area, which they collect in cisterns and supplement by purchasing water from private vendors who transport water in tankers. Although the water provided by the vendors costs many times as much as the water supplied through the local pipeline, it is often unfit for drinking as it is transported in unsanitary conditions. The residents of these communities use only about 20 liters of water per person a day overall, for all needs. This falls far short of the 100 liters per person per day that is the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization.
In recent years, and especially since early 2013, the Israeli military has periodically ordered communities located in areas Israel declared firing zones to temporarily vacate their homes. The official reason given is that the military needs to train in these particular areas, which make up about 45% of the Jordan Valley (73,600 hectares). Time and again, residents have been served military orders requiring them to vacate their homes for various periods of time, ranging from several hours to two whole days. Should they refuse to comply, the orders threaten forced removal, expropriation of their livestock, and retroactive fines covering the costs of the removal. In some cases documented by B’Tselem, notice of the evacuation was only conveyed to the residents verbally, with no written order presented.
From January 2013 through September 2017, the military compelled various communities throughout the Jordan Valley to vacate their homes 140 times. Some were subjected to temporary displacement several times, in some cases with only a week’s respite between times. The repeated upheaval has greatly disrupted the lives of these communities. The frequent displacements take a toll on residents’ income and livelihood, and also inspire much fear and uncertainty. Every such removal means leaving homes and property behind and involves expending considerable effort. Families must gather mattresses, blankets and sustenance (food and water) for themselves and for their livestock, before setting out with their children and flocks to seek shelter elsewhere. Sometimes, the flocks cannot be brought along and the residents have no choice but to leave them behind, hoping they will not come to harm. In some instances, families were forced out of their homes in mid-winter and had to seek shelter from the elements in harsh weather. After some removals, residents returned to find their cultivated fields damaged by the military training.
Moreover, various Israeli authorities – including the CA, the military and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority – actively harass residents by confiscating essential equipment over and over again. Examples include confiscation of tankers used to transport water, pipelines carrying water from springs, tractors and other farming equipment, and solar panels that provide a bare minimum of electricity.
All these measures are adopted with a view to making the residents of Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley leave their land and homes and to thwart Palestinian development in the region. The overall goal of this policy is to tighten Israel’s grip over the Jordan Valley and further the de-facto annexation of this area to Israel’s sovereign territory, while exploiting its resources.
Driving out or expelling residents of an occupied territory from their homes and land is considered forcible transfer of protected persons, which constitutes a war crime. This holds true whether the force used to achieve the transfer is direct or indirect, whether it takes a physical or administrative form, and also whether it achieved through brute force or by creating intolerable living conditions that leave residents no alternative but to leave. All those complicit in committing this crime – including the prime minister, the defense minister, the chief military commander who signs the orders and the judges who lend their seal of approval – bear personal liability for its execution.