By Silvia Boarini
“They asked me before the election if I would honour [the Oslo accords] … I said I would, but [that] I’m going to interpret the accords in such a way that would allow me to put an end to this galloping forward to the 1967 borders. How did we do it? Nobody said what defined military zones were. Defined military zones are security zones; as far as I am concerned, the entire Jordan Valley is a defined military zone. Go argue.” Benyamin Netanyahu, 2001.
Route 90 is an imposing presence on the desolate landscape of the Jordan Valley. Its confident hold on the land is a metaphor for Israel’s sense of entitlement over the area.
The Highway stretches from Eilat in the South to Metula in the North and cuts through the length of the occupied West Bank. It approaches the Jordan Valley through the understated checkpoint of Ein Gedi, leaving Israel behind as it enters Palestinian Territory.
What stands out, as Road 90 travels North alongside the Palestinian city of Jericho and the Palestinian villages of Al Auja, Fasayal and Bardala, is that it never loses its distinctly Israeli character.
A perplexing de ja vu takes hold as Delek petrol stations, with their red and green logos, fit neatly into place outside the window. Families get out of their cars to buy fruit and drinks from roadside stalls with signs in Hebrew only; green Egged buses drive confidently along; and Israeli yellow license plates are everywhere. The only Palestinian presence seem to be the workers in the date palm farms.
Even for the informed visitor, it is still hard to make sense of the very real “facts on the ground” seizing Palestinian land. It doesn’t help that car rental maps are not keen on borders and the 1949 armistice line is a negligible detail printed in a shade of green so faint that it blends into the brownish background. Route 90, it appears, connects the South to the North of a single state.
The straight stretch of tarmac is broken up by junctions from where minor roads lead the eye to cartoonish colonies made up of identical houses protected by a fence. Sometimes there are caravans placed next to the houses to occupy more land and expand the settlement. All around, acres of agricultural land bear fruit for the Israeli economy.
Palestinian villages on the other hand, appear along the road unannounced and seem carved out of the landscape by repetitive use rather than a master plan. They consist of houses, shacks or tents attempting to grow organically but looking half built or half destroyed, it is never clear, as the occupation tries to stunt their expansion. Never a fence to claim ownership to what is rightfully theirs.
The Jordan Valley is the easternmost area of the West Bank, a long thin strip of land that borders with Israel to the north and south and Jordan to the east.
Israel has always cited the need to use it as a “security buffer zone”- allegedly to stop the infiltration of militants from and to Jordan–to explain why since 1967 it has worked tirelessly to annex it. At 120km long and 15km wide in a land that measures 424 Km in length and 114km at its widest point, the Jordan Valley is indeed quite a security cushion. And the fact that Israel, together with its military bases and soldiers, has squeezed 10,000 of its own citizens between what it allegedly considers a rock and a hard place, brings the meaning of buffer zone to a whole new level. The Jordan Valley happens to be the most fertile area of the West Bank and the one with the largest reserve of under and over ground water.
Thanks to its year-round agricultural climate, it has always been known as the “breadbasket of Palestine.” It is no surprise then, that since the first outposts were set up in 1968 under the auspices of the Alon Plan (named after Labour leader Yeg’al Alon and aimed at increasing Jewish presence in the area) Israel has built a total of 37 settlements and outposts.
Residential zones take up roughly 50% of the available land, while military bases, checkpoints, firing zones, and nature reserves occupy another 45%. It is a testament to the selective blindness of the international community and the efficiency of the Occupation apparatus that through carefully orchestrated isolation and displacement of Palestinian communities, this takeover has gone on undisturbed for many decades.
Ninety-five percent of the Jordan Valley is Area C, under full Israeli control. Area C is a product of the 1993 Olso Accords and was supposed to be slowly transferred into the control of the Palestinian Authority. Nearly 20 years later, though, Israel has all but relinquished that control.