Jordan Valley: The Palestinians have no water in the Jordan Valley

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Daphne Banai (Report), Tamar Berger (photos)

We intended to take blind Maryam to get her eye shot at the eye hospital in Turmus Aya. Eventually we canceled and continued on our way (thinking the hospital would be shut down due to the general strike that had been announced). Around the water pumps between the settlements of Gitit and Mekhora, fields were being plowed, and across the road we met a young shepherd, Maher, who lives east of the pumps since he was born. Two families. In the summer they move to Aqraba and in November they return to the Jordan Valley.

We continued to Beqa’ot Checkpoint to meet a young shepherd of the Abu Al Kebash family and give him a new SIM card, so he could summon help when settler Moshe attacks him and/or take a picture. However, he wouldn’t cross the checkpoint for fear of the soldiers’ bullets. We asked to cross to the other side of the checkpoint. The reservist soldier – long hair, nose ring – said we couldn’t because Area A is out of bounds.  We told him we had no intention to enter Area A (that begins 5 kilometers beyond the checkpoint…) but rather meet someone 200 meters away. He waved us through. We returned less than half an hour later, and the soldiers detained us claiming we had entered Area A. Two army jeeps with 8 soldiers arrived, their sirens blaring. “You had the whole army on its feet!” the soldiers said, angrily. “You broke through the checkpoint”, lied the soldier who had let us through earlier. Half the army dealt with us for an hour as though there were no war in the world. Finally, a police van appeared and the policeman confirmed that we were indeed NOT in Area A. He released us, warning us not to cross over there again.

At 11:30 we reached the yellow iron gate opposite Roi settlement. This gate had been placed there several months ago right on the route leading to Atuf village and serving as the only way for the inhabitants of the northern Palestinian Jordan Valley to transport water. Let’s begin with the fact that Israel, taking over an entire region that is not its own in the Jordan Valley (and the whole West Bank, for that matter) has taken over all the water sources there, and gives it only to settlers. All the Palestinian shepherd communities are denied water. What does that mean? That even the holes in the ground that store rain water are blocked by the Israeli army. In recent months the State of Israel has been installing a newer, wider water pipe that would deliver much more water to the settlements. The Palestinians asked to be connected to it as well, and were naturally refused. Having no other choice, they ride their tractors with the tankers attached, bringing water from the Palestinian Authority areas. Their lives and the fate of their livestock depend on this water.

Last summer, the Israeli army blocked the route to Atuf from where they bring water, and raised the dirt dykes blocking motorized traffic from the Valley to the center of the West Bank (to school, to medical treatment, even for shopping and water). When war broke out, the gate was closed and soldiers have been stationed there, and since then bringing water has turned into a nightmare. For days, soldiers denied Palestinians passage and all the communities remained thirsty. At first the gate was still manned and the soldiers alternated, sometimes opening it and at others – not. All according to their mood or political views. Sometimes three days rusty water tankers drove to the gate and returned empty. Thousands remained without a drop of water for whole days!

We came at 11:30 and found two tankers tied to tractors, a tanker truck, and a truck for sheep feed on the one side of the gate, and a water tanker on the other. The gate was locked, and there were no soldiers to be seen. The tanker on the west side of the checkpoint arrived at 7 a.m. and crossed over to bring water. When it drove back at 8 a.m. it found a locked gate. The others, on the east side, arrived at the same time. All had been waiting for hours.

There is a phone number posted on the gate, for emergencies. When the Palestinians call – they are not answered (they may be recognized). Tamar called and as soon as she said she wished they would come to the gate, the call was disconnected. They no longer answered. All our calls to the DCO, to the Jordan Valley hotline, to the war-room remained unanswered. At 12:30 the soldiers arrived at the gate, took a turn, saw the people waiting and … left. Only an hour later, at 13:30, they came to open it.

The first thing the soldiers did was to make us go away, claiming we were creating a disturbance. A few minutes later came a transit van and unloaded about 15 Habad boys (religious Jews) with loudspeakers and doughnut crates, and began their dance and song routine with the soldiers, totally oblivious of the suffering going on. They offered us their sweets too, but not the Palestinians. Then the soldiers announced that they would remain there for only 30 minutes. The Palestinians begged to have at least an hour, because the inspection of IDs and the way ahead and water pumping need at least an hour. No go. When the tankers were back with their water at 14:15, they found a locked gate. The soldiers had been long gone. The Palestinians had to wait again, and we made desperate calls to the army and DCO, and only at 18:30 was the gate opened again. The Palestinians had waited for nine and a half hours just to bring water.

The denial of water to people in an occupied area is a prima facie war crime. Water is life. Its denial is equal to murder. The miserliness of a rich army with all of its state-of-the-art armament that does everything in its power to harass innocent civilians – their children, their flocks – is horribly shameful for all of us. Could you imagine how we would respond to such water denial lasting hours on end?!

There is no justification and no security risk involved here, and certainly no need to force Palestinians to wait for hours at the checkpoint in order to bring water to their homes. Shame!!

And we are responsible for this. Our silence enables this.

We continued to Farsia. On our way we stopped near where Tareq used to live, until – when on October 10th, 2023- he and his neighbor were expelled by settler Uri, aided by the police who arrested him when he was attacked by Uri. After repeated attacks, when during one attack the settlers urinated on his tent, he gave up and left his own estate, moving to a safer place. Just like him, another 15 families have moved since war broke out. The expulsion campaign has gained another record.

When we came, there were Israeli activists from the Palestinian Jordan Valley movement, because settlers from Rotem came to harass the shepherds along with soldiers who were there to help them. Before we left, we heard that settlers were stealing goats from a shepherd near Shadmot Mekhola settlement. The activists went there and naturally, police came too. Most of the goats were scattered around and were eventually returned to their owners. The police arrested no one, didn’t even bother to check the settlers’ IDs. Full collaboration.