It’s hard to imagine that within the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) there’s one region that‘s even more contested than others, but there is: the Jordan Valley.
The Jordan Valley begins along Lake Tiberias in the north and follows the path of the Jordan River to the tip of the Dead Sea in the south. With its year-round agricultural climate and close water supply (Jordan River), the Jordan Valley is considered the breadbasket of Palestine. It also provides an otherwise landlocked West Bank access to both the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. Since the Oslo II Accord (1995), the region has been controlled by Israel as part of area C. The Oslo II Accord divided the oPt into three areas A, B, and C. Area A is under the civil and security control of the Palestinian Authority; Area B is under civil control of the Palestinian Authority and joint Israeli and Palestinian security control (at least in theory); and, Area C is under the exclusive civil and military control of Israel. In addition to having the best farmland in the oPt, the Jordan Valley is also home to Bedouin Arabs who were once nomadic, but began building roots in various parts of the oPt long before Israel’s creation in 1948. However, since the occupation the Jordan Valley has been the site of significant de-Palestinianization (this is a word Palestinians use to describe the ways in which Israel has systematically removed them from their lands, especially in the West Bank). Contrary to international law, Israel has used its exclusive control of the Jordan Valley to expropriate land and expand settler agriculture. In November 2013, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced plans for a Jordan Valley fence, which would completely isolate the West Bank. House demolitions in the Jordan Valley and new settlement construction have continued throughout U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiated peace talks in the region. In fact, the Jordan Valley itself has been a key point of contention during the talks. According to Israel, the Jordan Valley must remain a part of Israel for strategic security reasons. (Read: fertile farmland and fresh water cannot be returned to Palestinians for economic reasons.) In February 2014, 300 Palestinian activists established a village north of the Dead Sea to protest Israel’s intended control and/or annexation of the Jordan Valley. For their part, Palestinian negotiators are quite adamant about the Jordan Valley being an integral component of any future Palestinian State. They’re willing to negotiate a multi-year, phased withdrawal of Israeli troops, but not permanent control or annexation. And for good reason. Assuming Gaza remains under siege for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to imagine how a new Palestinian State will achieve food sovereignty or access the rest of the world without the Jordan Valley. Despite this contested reality, Palestinian farmers are hard at work on their lands in the Jordan Valley. With the support of Grassroots International partner, the Union of Agricultural Committees, Palestinian farmers are planting seeds and food sovereignty throughout the Jordan Valley.