Israel cuts off Jordan Valley from rest of West Bank

By Amira Hass

While the international community busied itself with the disengagement from the Gaza Strip last summer, Israel completed another cut-off process, which went unnoticed: Israel completed cutting off the eastern sector of the West Bank from the remainder of the West Bank in 2005.

Some 2,000,000 Palestinians, residents of the West Bank, are prohibited from entering the area, which constitutes around one-third of the West Bank, and includes the Jordan Valley, the area of the Dead Sea shoreline and the eastern slopes of the West Bank mountains. Military sources told Haaretz that the moves have been "security measures" adopted by the Israel Defense Forces, and have no connection to any political intentions whatsoever.
Restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the Jordan Valley were imposed at the start of the intifada, and were gradually expanded. But the sweeping prohibition regarding entry into the area by Palestinians was imposed, in fact, after security responsibility in Jericho was given back to the Palestinians on March 16, 2005.

At the time, Palestinian sources say, Palestinian travelers coming across the Allenby Bridge (the West Bank's only direct link overseas) were banned from passing through the Jordan Valley even if they were heading to the northern West Bank and the villages adjacent to the valley's checkpoints. Instead, the travelers are required to go through Jericho, and from there, the road is long and filled with checkpoints and delays.

Furthermore, since then, residents of Jericho and the remainder of the West Bank have been banned from passing through the Ouja checkpoint, north of Jericho, in the direction of the Jordan Valley.

In addition to affecting others, the prohibition also applies to thousands of residents of towns and villages in the northern West Bank, like Tubas and Tamun, most of whose lands are in the Jordan Valley, and some of whose residents have been living there for many years. The residents of the Jordan Valley villages are tied to the northern West Bank villages through family connections, joint land ownership, work, schooling, and medical and social services.

Also affected by the ban are people who for years have earned a living by doing seasonal agricultural work for Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, as well as an unknown number (several thousand apparently) of Bedouin and sheep-herders who live in the area permanently in tents and makeshift structures, but are registered as residents of towns and villages a few kilometers to the east.

Since the start of the intifada, Palestinians have been banned from using Road 90, the Jordan Valley Road, with use of the road restricted to residents of the Jordan Valley, and only north of Jericho.

This picture of such a large Palestinian area being absolutely cut off from the rest of the West Bank has emerged from tours and talks Haaretz has conducted in the area over a period of a number of weeks, from testimonies gathered by the B'Tselem human rights organization and reports from officials from the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs.

Four permanent checkpoints ensure that passage is denied to Palestinians whose identity documents do not list them as residents of the Jordan Valley. Entry is permitted only to a few thousand holders of special permits from the Civil Administration, as well as some 5,000 Palestinians who work in the settlements. Around 1,500 of those who hold the Civil Administration permits (valid for three months and not always extended) are residents of the area around Tubas who own land and work in the Jordan Valley. Several hundred are teachers and health workers; the remainder are primarily traders and drivers.

Special, one-off entry permits are granted for "humanitarian cases" - weddings, other family affairs, funerals and so on - and have to be coordinated in advance with the Civil Administration and the military.

To enforce the ban, the Israel Defense Forces conducts frequent nighttime raids in the Jordan Valley villages. Palestinians who are not registered as residents of the area are driven beyond the Tayasir checkpoint and dropped off. The soldiers also confiscate the identity documents of Palestinians who have the "incorrect" address.

An IDF source who confirmed the abovementioned restrictions on Palestinian movement in the Jordan Valley said that the only way to protect an area as large as the Jordan Valley was to impose limitations on movement - checkpoints to control and direct the traffic to provide protection for the Jewish communities and Road 90, a strategic thoroughfare.