Saturday, 23 July 2011

Jordan Valley

Jordan Valley

This past week, four of us from ISM went to work with Jordan Valley Solidarity in the desert terrain bordering Jordan.

The scenery is amazing in the Valley - the base camp is surrounded by mountains and cacti, and on the average day it is about 40 degrees. In the evening it's a bit cooler with the breeze, so the four of us decided to go for a walk up one of the mountains to see the view. It was spectacular. Although from the top, you can see the Israeli military checkpoint which regulates who comes in and out of the Valley, and on the top of the mountain we noticed that a few stones had numbers painted on them. We didn't think much of this and continued our leisurely walk until the sun had set.

When we got back to the camp, the Palestinians told us that what we had just walked through was an Israeli military shooting range - all the mountains in the valley are. Jordan Valley is often forgotten even among activists, but is key to Israel's ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

Jordan Valley Solidarity work to rebuild Bedouin homes and schools that Israel demolishes; their belief is that existence is resistance. Bedouins are Palestinians who have been made homeless when Israeli settlers steal their homes and their land. There are hundreds of bedouins in the Valley, where it is excruciatingly hot if you have no shade or water.

The Palestinians living in the Valley only own 2% of the water, as Israel is redirecting 98% to the illegal settlements, so they can use it to water their palm trees that are planted on stolen Palestinian land. Netanyahu has visited the settlements near where we were staying, to ask what they needed there in order to carry on expanding.

If Palestinian land isn't being stolen by settlers, homes are being demolished by the Israeli army. Ramadan is a particularly worrying time for the Palestinians there as it is too hot to fast in the Valley with no water, so many people often go to stay with relatives in the rest of the West Bank for a month. The military then claim that their houses are not being used, and tear them down. Last week, the army destroyed three Palestinian wells that more than 200 people relied upon for water and for agriculture. But this is the Israeli army; they didn't just destroy them, they shoved cement and metal down the pipes to ensure that the Palestinians couldn't rebuild them. Each well costs more than 250 000 NIS to build.

The volunteers at JV Solidarity make a refreshing change from NGO workers and their paperwork. They build every day - the Palestinians for at least 12 hours a day. There are two young boys from Bedouin families volunteering there who were a real inspiration for me to keep going when I was tired. For the first two days, we were making mud bricks to build houses...

The second two days we spent on a construction site at a Bedouin village, where we were building homes for families whose land and water had been stolen by settlers. It was hard work in the sun, laying bricks and mixing cement, but the Palestinians were amazing and it was really good fun. If someone was slacking, it was fair game to throw cement in their face, or a rock at them - Palestine isn't so pedantic with health and safety as in the UK, and I can say that life is much more fun this way.

On our final night, we put some planks of wood together on the construction site and slept under the stars, with the wild dogs and scorpions and Israeli drones flying overhead. After twelve hours of manual labour, I could pretty much sleep anywhere. The moon was huge and blood red, and there were awesome shooting stars that night.

Luckily, we weren't disturbed by the military attempting to rip down our day's work. But Ramadan starts on the 1st August and the people are worried. Once Israel manage to drive the last of the Palestinians out of the Valley, they have the West Bank surrounded and that will make their ethnic cleansing all the more easy, and Netanyahu knows this - hence why he is a visitor to the settlers in their air conditioned condos here.

I cannot emphasise enough how much of a farce the 'peace talks' are. They are a distraction for the international community while Israel evicts the Palestinians from their land and murders those who resist. But there is not much need for the peace talks as a cover-up for long; just the fact that settlers have access to 98% of the water in the Valley is a reminder for the Palestinians here that Israel is winning. And Israel is winning because the international community needs to wake up.

I'm beginning to realise that being able to sit with friends in a pub in London without fear of soldiers with AK47s invading and threatening you, puts you in a minority in this world - not the majority. We Westerners are living in a bubble, and it's about time we woke up to what our governments are doing in our names to defenceless people.

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