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Day 9: Jordan Valley. In 1967, 320,000 Palestinians lived in the Jordan Valley and 10,000 Palestinians worked in Israeli settlements. The valley was a breadbasket and its produce was exported, mainly to the Arab world.
There are nine Palestinian villages inhabited by farmers, some Bedouin villages and 13 schools.
Now Israelis control the land and its resources and they use different strategies to harass Palestinians, including laying mines which have caused fatalities.
In the valley, the settlers have more water than they need. The river Jordan was the main border with the kingdom of Jordan, but the Israelis have taken over the very fertile land by the river and use it to grow their own fruit and vegetables — even though this is part of the West Bank — which means Palestinians cannot access the river.
It’s a very profitable enterprise for settlers who have made millions from their produce.
We meet R from the Al Taab community group which set up a school in the area 50 years ago. It started with one classroom and is now much bigger, with some new classes housed in mobile homes. From age 14, children attend schools in Jericho, a fair distance away.
The school has already received 15 demolition orders.
R tells us that they wanted to plant trees but the Israeli authorities forbade them. Just behind the school there are two huge water tanks for settlements only but the school cannot access the water and must buy it from Jericho to fill up their water butts.
Electricity comes from expensive solar panels, there is no transport for local villagers and no access to health clinics. The community, assisted by funds from international organisations, has built six houses and health clinics and has plans to build a community centre in the north of the Jordan Valley.
There are plans for more schools and a water campaign to join up with Bedouins from the Negev desert, but, R tells us, “organising is difficult as freedom of movement is restricted.”
Day 10: East Jerusalem. At the UN mission office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, its head of research explains that, after the annexation of east Jerusalem following the six-day war, permanent resident status was granted — not citizenship or nationality — which provides Palestinians with some benefits equalling those of Israeli citizens, but the status is fragile and permits are being revoked.
East Jerusalem is isolated from the West Bank and Palestinians need permits to go there, prohibiting family reunification.
There are “wild-cat areas” in east Jerusalem — a kind of no-man’s land along the boundaries of the neighbourhood — and settlements are the main driver of such fragmentation, with 18 per cent of the West Bank designated as military areas, again off-limits to the Palestinians.
One concern is that settlement expansion is making a contiguous, whole Palestinian state in the West Bank impossible, with a string of east-west settlements in the northern West Bank threatening to cut the area into northern and southern segments split by Israeli settlements.
The Israeli authorities have set up nature reserves and this means that the land cannot be used for cultivation as it is divided up into small enclaves.
Day 11: Nazareth. Driving to Nazareth Illit, we pass manicured Israeli settlements on every hill top, with lawns, ponds and swimming pools.
Built alongside old Nazareth, Illit has a Jewish population of 40,000-plus and the area was declared a separate city in June 1974 “to safeguard the Jewish character of the Galilee.”
We meet writer Jonathan Cook, former Guardian and Observer journalist and he takes us to the site of Saffuriya, a village destroyed during the Nakba.
Nothing is left, just land and some pine trees and, as he shows us old photos of the village, a settler films us. “These are lies,” he tells Cook before walking away to make a call.
Cook expounds on the vexed issue of national rights, explaining that the Law of Return gives every Jew a national right to live in Israel and allows them to gain citizenship rights, institutionalising racism as non-Jews have been stripped of citizenship unless they marry a Jew.
But, argues Cook, “citizenship and nationality are two different things. Israel recognises 130 nationalities except for the Israeli nationality, the main issue which creates discrimination.”
Thus Israelis have no nationality. Cook is Israeli-British, with Israeli citizenship. “What does it mean to be Jewish?” he asks. “It was a religion but it is becoming an ethnicity, particularly for non-religious Jews.
“Zionism states that Jews are a Jewish race. Israel argues that Jews are a nation and that Israel is the home of the Jews. The government protects its Jewishness by flouting the law.”
The group has lunch in a cafe-cum-cultural centre and we meet communist activist F, who encourages Israeli and Palestinian women to unite around common issues.
“We still believe in the two-state solution, but it’s more important to bring the two communities together. There are a lot of common issues and a lot of poor Israelis as well.”
Afterwards, we walk around the beautiful old city of Nazareth, which the Palestinian community is restoring and the Illit settlers are eyeing up. The streets are empty and the market closed, yet hotels are fully booked and, against all odds, tourism is booming.
Day 12: Departure. En route to Ben Gurion airport, the Palestinian homes with water butts on the roof are now a familiar sight.
When we arrive, our driver is phoned by a member of his family and told that three houses in his village have just been demolished by the Israeli authorities.
That personal Nakba (catastrophe) is the daily reality of Palestinians living under apartheid.
Information on ICAHD study tours to Palestine is available at icahduk.org and on the BDS movement at bdsmovement.net
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