Palestinian Jordan Valley – tour with journalists

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Tzvia Shapira, Daphne Banai (guide), Nurit Popper (photos and report)

We had a pre-planned meeting at the local council house of Bardala, a Palestinian village in the northern Palestinian Jordan Valley. Present were Z. – the village council chairman, K. – a journalist of the Kyoto News living for the past 3 years in Jerusalem and covering the Middle East and Palestine, and Pinchas Inbari – a journalist and Middle East researcher who works with K. Z., our host, speaks fluent Hebrew. He worked for 10 years in Israel, at the Zemah Junction, and remembers those years most favorably.

The subject at hand: plans for Israeli annexation of the Palestinian Jordan Valley and Trump’s policy. Previous American presidents, including Obama, did not favor the Palestinian interests but were vague about this. Now, according to Z., things are clear cut: Trump lays his views on the table. He heard that Bennet speak in a conversation with a public figure of a plan to annex 6 Palestinian villages. The talk dealt with the implications of such annexation. Bardala’s built-up area lies within Area B, but all the farmlands on which the village economy is based are situated in Area C (that is to be annexed…). Thus, annexation of these farmlands alone will not enable the inhabitants to sustain themselves, and therefore the village itself better be annexed, although it is now officially under civil Palestinian control. The inhabitants wish to live under respectable conditions, and annexation that will enable this will not arouse resistance. We tried to raise the problem of water but the conversation kept reverting back to the political issues and annexation’s implications on the villagers’ lives.

From Bardala we proceeded to Makhoul. A meal awaited us at Burhan’s home. We planned for the journalists to meet him but he was out grazing his flock. Our friend Abu Khalaf, out with his flock on the green field near the trail leading to Burhan’s encampment came with us in our car, holding a bunch of wild mustard leaves. Burhan’s wife offered us tea and refreshments. For our journalist guests this was a special first experience – hospitality at a shepherd’s tent. We had our chance to speak with them about the hardships faced by the shepherd communities, and the settler-colonist outposts overlooking them from the hilltops.

We took leave of our guests and stopped to visit with our friends in the nearby tents. We first saw R. The little children were glad to see us, as usual, and ran to greet us. M. who entered first grade this year, discovered the umbrella in our trunk, still packaged. H., already a youth, congratulated Daphne on her new car. R. told us that her two brothers, living in Al Hadidiya, were arrested by the Israeli army for allegedly picking herbs – grounds that sound forced, with the true, more reasonable reason being simply to intimidate them and make sure they understand who’s in charge of the area, including wild plants. The brothers were required to pay 4000 NIS as bail for release. This is how the State of Israel finances maintaining its military in the West Bank…

From there we descended to the neighboring encampment to meet N. In our talk we asked her, innocently, whether she prefers to live under the PA or Israeli control. We hardly managed to finish our question when she answered, clearly and naturally: “I am Palestinian and it’s my right to live free as a Palestinian in my own country under my own rule.”

On our way back from Bardala and later on, we were troubled by the question how Palestinians respond to the idea of official Israeli sovereignty in the Palestinian Jordan Valley, how they see the situation and what they prefer (in spite of the fact that practically speaking they have no choice, no one asks them).

On our way back, we stopped to check the gatesinfo-icon of settler-colony Roi, that block the track for inhabitants of Al Hadidiya returning home from Tamoun village. The northern gate was open for the first time in many days. Lawyer Eitay Mack has requested that the Israeli activists who accompany shepherds in that area monitor those gates several times a week. N. told us that the gate is now open every day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. – a small success of Eitay Mack’s efforts in his letters to the army.

Further along the way from Mekhora to Gitit settler-colonies, we saw a new tended area at the expense of grazing grounds. It was planted with rows of trees whose branches were cut so that we could not define what kind of trees they were. An electrical fence has been erected in front, and a new gate.

Maale Efrayim checkpoint was manned. Border Policemen and women were inspecting Palestinian cars driving towards the Valley. In the second – open – lane, Israeli cars were driving freely.