Abu Saqr, village elder of Al Hadidiya, is today in his sixties. He still remembers the times before Israel occupied the Jordan Valley in 1967 and has struggled with his community for decades to ensure their survival.
Only a couple of years after the occupation, in 1969 Israel started to persecute the farmers and the Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley. First, farmers were brought in front of military caughts, then attacks on the animals started and finally, the phase of home demolitions and confiscation of farming equipment has been initiated by the Israeli occupation forces.
Abu Saqr explains the efforts to strengthen Palestinian unity and struggle in the Jordan Valley.
“The idea of forming the Popular Council of the Jordan Valley started two years ago. We began to work on this project in consultation with Stop the Wall and the Palestinian Farmers Union and many of the activists from different locations in the Jordan Valley.
The idea was motivated by the huge number of problems we are facing, especially in the Bedouin community in the northern Jordan Valley. Our communities are facing a systematic policy of demolitions and persecution by the Israeli military. While manyn of us are determined to resist at any cost, this has de facto resulted in a descrease in the population in the area. With this increasing threat to our existence, the worries about our future in this area have risen.
We further understood that each community and family was dealing with their problems and the ongoing repression by the Israeli occupation on their own. The Jordan Valley has become fragmented: the communities here are small and far away from each other. The district zoning of the Palestinian Authority has devided the Jordan Valley into sections of three different districts.
Additionally, we have been neglected and marginalized within the policies of the Palestinian Authority. Most of the Jordan Valley is located in Area C, which is theoretically under Israeli administration. Hence, the PA does not provide us with the basic services that would support our steadfastness.
From the very start we knew that it would not be an easy task to unite the people together in one body under these conditions. Nevertheless, we decided to start working on project.
We started conversations with the different representatives in the communities and villages of the Jordan Valley and discussed the idea with them. throughout 2014 and even until 2015, we had many meetings in order to find consensus and a common will to act. In the end we agreed that there is a common feeling among all the actors that we need to overcome the fragmentation and to come together to support each other.
In our meetings many serious questions have been raised and they had to be resolved before we could actually form the Council. First of all we needed to agree on whether this body was going to an alternative to the councils linked to the PNA district administrations in the Jordan Valley. Secondly, we needed to gauge how the PNA would deal with this new body and how we would related to them.
Finally, we agreed that this Council will not be an alternative to any other councils and that, instead, we want to coordinate closely with them. We agreed that this new coordination body was to be a popular council and that will not be officially registered it with any ministry.
At the level of the Palestinian Authority, our main objective today is to force the Authority to recognise us as Palestinian communities for which they have responsibilities. The fact that we are in Area C cannot be excuse for not providing services or protection for us.
The problem with actors from outside the Jordan Valley is not limited to the Palestinian Authority. International donors are another player that are operating in the Jordan Valley but, in fact, they only come to us when our tents are destroyed to give us other tents. This is not what we want from them. We want political support from the international community to pressure for the respect of human rights and the IV Geneva Convention and to force Israel to stop persecuting us and destroying our places.”
Since the inception of the Popular Council of the Jordan Valley, the coordination body has been active on many fronts. Abu Saqr relates some of the experiences:
“One of the reasons why the people started believing in the Popular Council is that we didn’t only hold meetings - we started organizing activities. For example, as part of the Land defense Coalition, which is formed by several organisations including the Palestinian Farmers Unino and Stop the Wall, we mobilized against the taxes that the Palestinian Authority wants to impose on the farmers and particularly our livestock. We had one big demonstration last year and we had one yesterday [December 14, 2015].
The result of last year’s demonstration was that the PNA froze the decision to levy taxes from us. However, later in 2015, they re-activated the decision again. Yet, people simply refused to pay this unjust tax and so the PNA started to take some of us to court.
Now we went back to demonstrate in front of the PNA offices to demand the full cancellation of this tax. We have been able to bring three busses of farmers from the Jordan Valley. Farmers from the Land Defense Coalition from other districts have brought buses from their areas.
Also we joint the Stop the Wall Campaign in their demonstrations in Beit Jala, Bethlehem district, against the confiscation of the lands in Cremisan in order to build the apartheid Wall there.
Today the Popular Council is formed by a coordinating committee of 27 members that represent 18 locations, two agricultural societies in the Jordan Valley and a representative of the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign. In the coordinating committee we have as well a representative of the Land Defense Coalition included because today we are a main part of Coalition.”
Abu Saqr talks as well about the future, the aspiration of the Popular Council and the challenges ahead:
“We still have many things we need to mobilize for. In terms of concrete support for our farmers, we need a fund to help us in cases when draughts or other climate related issues cause huge losses to the farmers. We need as well a mechanism to help us to market our products.
We feel happy about what we have already achieved but we believe that we still have a long way to go to make the Popular Council strong enough to be the voice of the Jordan Valley communities, nationally and internationally.
This Council is very important for international solidarity with us because we want one voice from the Jordan Valley to talk about the problems here. This way solidarity doesn’t only come to one or another other location. It is important to organize the relations with international solidarity and aid organizations.
We therefore want to become an important source of information about the Jordan Valley and the human rights violations of the Israeli occupation as well as monitoring the work of the PNA and the international organizations in the Jordan Valley.
Our hope for the future is that there will come a point, in which that the Palestinian Authority and international donors, when they want to work in the Jordan Valley, they will come to us first and to consult and coordinate.
The Jordan Valley communities will then act and be seen as a collective body able to act in unity and defend their rights."