***image2***“I waited for my turn at Tayaseer checkpoint. A soldier made a sign for me to come. When I reached him, he asked me: ‘Who told you to come?’ I said: ‘You told me to come.’ Then he took my ID.”

Thus starts Imad Mahmud Ahmad Sawafta’s odyssey – a mixture of Orwellian control and restrictions that create the culture of the gulag in Palestine. Occupation Forces deploy a myriad of measures to make life impossible for him and Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley. The confiscation of ID cards, described here by various farmers and workers in the Valley, is part of a larger scheme of gradual land confiscation, house demolitions and general siege upon the area. With the final aim of ensuring collaboration and dependency from the farmers to the Zionist settlements - or their expulsion – Palestinian life in the Valley is left under severe threat.

Imad, a farmer from Bardala, continued his story: “I was with two of my friends. They took all our IDs and told us to wait. After two hours, the soldier brought the IDs of my friends back. The soldiers told me that I “have a problem” and that I need to go to the DCO (“Coordination” offices between the Occupation and Palestinian officials established during Oslo) to get my ID back. He gave me a paper written in Hebrew and left.

“How could I ever go to the DCO if the Occupation has recently dismantled its offices? So I tried at al-Hamra checkpoint, 35 km far from Tayaseer. I waited at al-Hamra checkpoint for almost two hours. Then the soldiers asked me where my ID is. I told them that the Soldiers at Tayaseer took it. The Soldier called Tayaseer and told me that my ID is not there. I wanted to know where it is, not where it not is. But the Soldier forced me to leave the checkpoint area. Yesterday I went again to both, Tayaseer and al-Hamra checkpoints, without any result. The situation is grotesque. The other day, I waited for an hour at a settler road for a military jeep to pass by so I could ask what to do to get my ID.

There are a lot of people in the same situation as me. I have heard of 20 other cases in which Valley ID cards have been confiscated.”

The gulag conditions created by the Occupation have a precise aim – to undermine Palestinian existence in the Jordan Valley. For several weeks, no one under 30 has been able to pass the checkpoints that lay siege to the area. Students that go to school in Tobas, or to their universities, are forced to trek through the mountains. Students walk for 4 or 5 hours through the valleys into the West Bank to reach their destination. On Jordan Valley residents over 30 – the only Palestinians allowed passage of the checkpoints - heavy limits are imposed.

Imad continued: “Usually when we pass the checkpoints going west of the Jordan Valley, the Occupation Forces register our names. Soldiers at the checkpoint controlling entry to the Valley now tell us that it is forbidden to stay overnight outside the Jordan Valley. However, we demand our rights to move as we like and try to challenge whatever harassment they put on us.

“The Occupation imposes a total siege on this land. All of us that have our farms close to the Wall are not allowed to be on our lands after 6 pm. The Occupation patrols the area with Soldiers on foot and in jeeps to check the farms and IDs of the farmers and their workers. If they find somebody without the papers they want to see, they send them away. Farmers are expecting heavier punishments for working with Palestinians who don’t have the residency papers for the Valley.”

Palestinian farmers, pressured from all sides, are being coerced into collaboration with the Occupation. Imad recounted a meeting called by the Occupation military officer for the Jordan Valley to which senior farmers in the area were ordered.

“It came after they closed the Bardala terminal for our products. They offered to send our produce to the settlements for packaging, and then they would let it pass through Bardala. We would have to pay two shekels for each box of fruit of vegetable to the settlers in order to export the produce into the 1948 areas. Evidently we refused this offer as we will never work together with the settlers.”

Basem Fuqaha: ‘This land is our land, you are the one that needs to ask for permits here.’

Basem Fuqaha had a flourishing, large farm in the Jordan Valley. It is now completely encircled by settlements and settler farms. So far, the attempts of the Occupation to dispossess Basem have not prevented him from working the land every day. However, the Occupation policies aim to bar him from finding workers to cultivate the fields.

“I was taking the workers from one field to the other when a military jeep came and stopped in front of us. The soldiers asked for our IDs and our purpose in the lands. I told them: ‘It’s my land and it has been my fathers land and we cultivate it.’ The soldiers saw that the workers are not from the Jordan Valley and asked me if they had permits to stay here. I told him: ‘This land is our land, you are the one that needs to ask for permits here.’ The soldiers called higher officials and finally forced all of them to Tayaseer checkpoint, expelling the workers from the Valley and confiscating their IDs.”

The expulsion of labour from Palestinian farms, makes the cultivation almost impossible. “My farm is around 1500 dunum. I can’t farm it all by myself”, explains Basem. “I need workers and it is not easy to find workers from the Jordan Valley as all of us here have our own piece of land we are working on. I used to employ workers from the northern districts of the West Bank. But since a few months, workers need a permit to enter and the Occupation doesn’t issue permits. Until now, I still find workers that smuggle through the mountains, but this will soon stop and then I will not find anybody to help me to work my land – it will be the same isolation as Jerusalem and of Palestinians in the 1948 areas.

Having nobody to cultivate my land, I am left with two choices: to leave my farm uncultivated and, according to the ancient Ottoman Law to lose it after three years, or to deal with settlers in joint projects.”

The Occupation is pushing Palestinian farmers more and more towards accepting collaboration with the settlements in order to be able to cultivate or harvest their products. In other areas, settlers are simply taking over Palestinian lands via force.

In the Jordan Valley, the military alongside the colonists have already stolen thousands of dunums. Basam points out how lands neighbouring his fields (some 3000 – 4000 dunums) have been declared a “military zone”. None of the farmers could reach their lands here. “One year ago, the settlers from Mahola and Shedmat Mahola and other colonies of the area started to cultivate it. Today, they are planting wheat, herbs and palm trees on it. The Occupation harvests crops and markets them freely - checkpoints, borders and international markets are open for their products.”

Workers from across the West Bank bear the brunt of the Occupation policies just as much as the farmers of the Jordan Valley. While Palestinians that accept work in settlements can easily obtain permits and passage to the Jordan Valley, the situation for all those that resist the Occupation’s attempt to transform them into cheap labour becomes increasingly harder.

Workers, mainly from the Northern districts of the West Bank, still living and working in the Jordan Valley do so at the risk of their imminent expulsion, loss of ID, and possible detention.

One of the agricultural workers explained: “I am from Bir al-Basha (Jenin district). I have worked here for many years. But this siege doesn’t allow me to go home anymore. I didn’t see my home and family for over two weeks. Sometimes I spend three weeks or a month without going home.

***image3***“Last time I came here walking through mountains and valleys. It is a very tiring four-hour trek from Tobas to here. I am afraid that the Soldiers could catch me on the farm. I am afraid that they come at night and catch me and throw me out of the Jordan Valley. So I am always in hiding. In Jenin there is no work. They don’t allow us to work in the ’48 areas. Here they have now forbidden us to work.”

Last year the Occupation launched a huge “development project” to expand the settlements and their farms in the Valley. Companies like Carmel Agrexco (of which the Occupation directly own 75%) make enormous profits from this Occupation policy. The majority of their goods come from the Jordan Valley being transported from packing houses in the Valley to European markets in 24 hours. With distribution depots in most countries in Europe - including major supermarket chains – international support for Occupation exports sustains the mechanisms that create devastation for Palestinians. While Palestinian agriculture and livelihoods are being destroyed, undermining the existence of villages and farms throughout the Valley, the need for a strong and coordinated boycott of Apartheid Israel and its exports is more vital than ever.



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