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From the field

New report exposes scope of Israel’s economic exploitation of Jordan Valley

  • 77.5 percent of area is closed to Palestinians
  • The area’s 9,400 settlers enjoy water allocation equal to almost 1/3 of the consumption of the entire West Bank Palestinian population 

Israel has instituted a regime that massively exploits the resources of the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea, far more than elsewhere in the West Bank, demonstrating its intention: to de facto annex the area to the State of Israel. These are the findings of Dispossession & Exploitation a report published today (12 May 2011) by Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem. 

The combined area of the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea is the largest land reserve in the West Bank. The area spans 1.6 million dunams, constituting 28.8 percent of the West Bank. It is home to 65,000 Palestinians living in 29 communities, and another estimated 15,000 Palestinians living in dozens of small Bedouin communities. Some 9,400 Israelis live in 37 settlements (including seven outposts) established in the area.

The report reviews the various measures that Israel has used to gain control of 77.5% of lands in the area, closing them off to Palestinians. These include declaring large swaths of land as state land, military firing zones or nature reserves. In the last two years, the Civil Administration has repeatedly demolished structures in Bedouin communities located in the closed-off areas, even though some were established before 1967. Thousands of additional dunams were taken from Palestinian refugees. Municipal boundaries of settlements cordon off twelve percent of the area, including the entire northern shore of the Dead Sea. 

The report details how Israel has taken over most of the water sources in the area, allocating almost all derived water to settlements: 9,400 settlers are allocated 45 million m3 water a year from drillings, from the Jordan River, from treated wastewater, and from artificial water reservoirs. This is almost one-third the quantity of water accessible to the 2.5 million Palestinians living throughout the West Bank. This generous water supply has enabled settlements to develop intensive-farming methods and to work the land all year round, with most of the produce being exported.

Israel’s control of the water sources in the area has reduced the quantity of water available to Palestinians. In 2008, Palestinians pumped 31 million m3 of water in the area – 44 percent less than the amount pumped prior to the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement of 1995. Due to the water shortage, Palestinians have been forced to neglect farmland that used to be cultivated and to switch to growing less profitable crops. 

Israel’s control of most of the land also prevents equal distribution of water between Palestinian communities in the area, and transferal of water to Palestinian communities outside the area. Bedouin communities in the area have so little water that their consumption matches the UN standard of the minimal quantity needed to survive in humanitarian-disaster areas. 

Israel has taken over most of the prominent tourist sites in the area – the northern shore of the Dead Sea, Wadi Qelt, the Qumran caves, the springs of the ‘Ein Fashkha reserve, and the Qasr Alyahud site. Additionally, the state allows private Israeli businesses to profit from mineral extraction and tourism along the Dead Sea shores. Israel has also built facilities in the Jordan Valley for treating wastewater and for burying waste from Israel and from settlements.

In light of the illegality of the settlements, and given the severe, ongoing harm that the settlements in the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea area have caused to Palestinians living there, B'Tselem calls on Israel to evacuate these settlements in an orderly manner that respects the settlers’ rights, including payment of compensation. In addition, in accordance with the prohibitions in international law against exploitation of the natural resources of occupied territory, Israel must enable Palestinians to access all areas currently closed to them, permit Palestinians to use the water sources there, cancel the restrictions on Palestinian movement in the area, and allow building and development in the Palestinian communities.

B'Tselem provided a copy of the report for response to the Ministry of Justice. According to an agreement with the MoJ, it coordinates relevant authorities’ responses to B’Tselem reports. In spite of this agreement, the Ministry indicated that, “since the report deals primarily with political questions, and not purely legal matters”, it does not consider it proper to respond.