The Israeli settlement programme in the Jordan Valley has been in place since the very early days of the occupation, with, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) 2010 figures, between 6000-9400 Jewish settlers now living in the area. Most of these settlements can be considered as economic in terms of the motivation of those who have come to live there. However, while not all driven by religious zeal, like many elsewhere in the West Bank, their impact is no more benign for those who share the area with them. According to HRW’s 2010 report, one settler organisation’s website states that, “agriculture is the leading economic sector for Jewish settlers in the valley” with “approximately 80 percent of dates, 70 percent of grapes, as well as “most” of the peppers, herbs and spices grown in the Jordan Valley settlements […]exported” (HRW, 2010, p.28). The report goes on to say that the settlements in the valley also grow “cherry tomatoes, eggplants, flowers, citrus fruits, olives, and pomegranates, and raise chickens, turkeys, dairy cows, goats and sheep” (ibid.). From my own experience travelling on a regular
basis through the Jordan Valley this summer, 2011, I can report that some of
the settlements also run fish farms (these are clearly signed by the
settlements themselves). All settlements (regardless of their motivation) in
the West Bank are illegal under international humanitarian law: article 49(6)
of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that any kind of transfer of the
occupying power’s population to the occupied territory is prohibited, this
applies whether the population go voluntarily or are forced. In the case of the
Jordan Valley settlements, this transferral comes with the added bonus of being regarded as “‘national priority’” communities since a 2009 by the Israeli
cabinet, thus allowing them subsidies for education, employment and culture
(HRW, 2010, p.27).
The presence of the settlements in the Jordan Valley has been catastrophic for their Palestinian neighbours. According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, Jordan Valley and Northern Dead Sea settlements (the latter being home to the very popular Ahava beauty products) receive one third of the water that is available to the 2.5million Palestinians living in the West Bank. In addition, the Jordan Valley settlements enjoy a per capital daily allocation of 487 litres for household needs, this is in comparison to the 70litres per capita per day on average for West Bank Palestinian communities (reaching as low as 20 litres per day in Area C’s remote communities) (UNOCHA, 2011 from B’Tselem, 2011).
One such community that suffers from the existence of the settlements and their preferential treatment is Al Hadidiya. Situated in the northern end of the Jordan Valley, with an approximated population of 230 (UNOCHA, 2011) it is reached along a rough dusty track (or in winter when the rain comes, a near impassable mud track), with the main route in to it now blocked by a gate, which is only opened by the Israeli military twice a week. Over the course of the three months I spent in the West Bank (based in the village of Yanoun as a volunteer with the organisation EAPPI) I visited this community on a number of occasions. The community is situated within an area designated as a military training zone. In 2009 Israel began to name areas within the Jordan Valley as such military zones. These areas are marked with a stone standing slab and appear along the roadside almost as signage for Palestinian communities. In some cases they are placed immediately in front of
Palestinian communities, while not appearing in front of the settlements that
lie immediately beside them. Because of where Al Hadidiya lies, they are
subject to regular military training during the night, furthermore they have
experienced at least six demolitions of their residences and animal shelters
over the years. Since 1997 the population of the community has dropped with
more families leaving each year due to the repressive lifestyle enforced by the
restrictions on water, land and movement as well as the demolitions. The most
recent in June 2011 (which I saw the remains of) demolished 33 structures,
leaving 37 people homeless.
When I first visited in early July we were led around the remains of the community’s homes (much of their belongings buried under the rubble as they were not allowed to remove their belongings before the demolition began) and up to the small hill behind the ruins. Having walked through the hard arid landscape of Al Hadidiya, sheep and goats sheltering in pens from the harsh summer heat, I was gobsmacked and then offended by the view in front of me. Lusciously green, the settlement of R’Oi lies immediately beside the Al Hadidiya community, taking advantage of the preferential water access to water of settlements it grows citrus trees as well as other vegetables and fruit. Meanwhile, Abu Saqr (Al Hadidiya’s main community representative) and his large family struggle to exist and must buy water to continue to live in their homeland. When I asked Abu Saqr how they could continue to live under these conditions, he replied that people were like trees – rooted in the land, and that if they were removed then they would be likewise only good for firewood, broken. His youngest child Samoud, which is the Arabic for resilience, was so named because she was born on the day of one of the demolitions and is a symbol of their refusal to move.
It is not enough to accept Abu Saqr’s commendable fortitude at resisting the spread of the settlements. As consumers, citizens of the EU are often unwittingly a party to the on-going violation of IHL committed by these settlements. According to David Cronin’s 2011 analysis of the relationship between the EU and Israel, Europe imports two-thirds of all Israeli exports on an annual basis, most of these goods enjoy tax exemptions under the 2000 association agreement. However, “an estimated 20 per cent of all exports to the European Union with a ‘made in Israel’ label come wholly or partly from settlements in the occupied territories” (Cronin, 2011, 132). It is not impossible to label settlement goods. In Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv I went into a shop that sold “Israeli goods” (olive oil etc.). In there I found products clearly labelled as having been produced in the Jordan Valley (i.e. in the Occupied Palestinian Territories). However, Israel feels no such compunction
to label these goods ordinarily, recognising, no doubt, the likelihood of a
boycott movement against these goods (many people are uncomfortable with the idea of a complete boycott of Israeli goods, considering it to be a collective
punishment of the Israeli population as a whole, as well as a punishment of
Palestinian farmers whose goods are also exported in many cases as products of Israel). As Cronin points out, the EU has been nonchalant in their response and the continued export of settlement goods labelled as products of Israel and
enjoying EU tax exemptions continues as a result of “lack of political will,
not a lack of information”(Cronin, 2011, p.133).
Recently there has been some positive development. Following from the Brita judgement of 2009 (where it was found by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg that Brita could not import accessories and syrups made in the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim as Israeli goods) some UK supermarkets are now labelling settlement goods, following DEFRA (Department of Food and Rural Affairs) 2009 guidelines. However, this does not cover all of the food retailers and has not been taken up by any of the other EU member states yet. Leaving the issue of labelling aside and our right to a choice to not buy these products even if correct labelling is introduced, it remains that, as Cronin has noted, that “the Commission has in effect accepted that Israeli settlers can legitimately run businesses on occupied Palestinian land” (Cronin, 2011, p.133). Until the EU ceases to legitimise these settlements, by turning a blind eye and allowing Israel to continue to export their produce then it continues to legitimise the settlements and their attendant violation of IHL and the degradation of communities such as Al Hadidiya.
Cronin, David (2011) Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation. Pluto Press: London