The Last Shepherds of the Jordan Valley | Al Jazeera World
Jul 13 2020
Stretching from Mozambique in south-east Africa to Syria in the Middle East, the Great Rift Valley is home to the world's lowest city, Jericho, which was established over 10,000 years ago. Farmers and shepherds have tended flocks and lived off the land in the Jordan Valley for thousands of years. But Israel's continued occupation of the region since 1967 is threatening people's traditional way of life, restricting Palestinian development on the land - and Bedouin homes in the area have repeatedly been razed. Some 56,000 Palestinians live in the part of the valley that lies in the West Bank, many of who are Bedouin living in temporary communities, always moving with the herds. Their determination to remain on the land is becoming ever more difficult in the face of constant attempts by the Israeli military and settlers to drive them off their land. With water resources and agricultural potential, the valley would be the breadbasket and water source of any future Palestinian state. The Jordan Valley has some of the most fertile land in all of the occupied territories. Arable farming is a lifeline for many rural Palestinian communities, yet Israel controls most water resources in the area. While making life difficult for local communities, Israel has also encouraged the spread of settlements - regarded illegal under international law - across the occupied West Bank for over five decades. The number of Jewish settlers in the Jordan Valley has nearly doubled from 2011 to 2018. Israeli settlers already use the vast majority of the area's water resources and an increased influx would further threaten the living conditions of Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley, limiting their opportunities for economic growth and pushing the people living there into greater poverty. "The Israeli policy is to drive us away, not to aid our survival here," says Abu Saqr, one of the Jordan Valley residents struggling to stay on in the face of Israeli policies of home demolitions and arrest. His home has been destroyed three times. Between 2011 and 2018, 458 housing units were demolished by the Israeli Army in the Jordan Valley districts of Tubas and Jericho. During that same period, three of Abu Saqr's eight sons and Abu Saqr himself spent time in Israeli prisons. Since then, Israel's policy on settlements has also hardened and in 2018, it announced plans to expand 14 of the 20 existing illegal settlements and build three new ones, effectively doubling the Israeli settler population. Local campaigners like Sirene Khudairi, have consistently protested against Israel's human rights violations in the Jordan Valley; and her activities led to her detention for nine months. "I get so upset when I see this well nearly empty and the settlement draining our water to turn their areas into a Garden of Eden," says Sirene, during one of her visits to Abu Saqr. Since this film was originally made in 2011, Sirene has got married and moved to Bethlehem to start a family. Those like Abu Saqr and Sirene are stuck between a rock and a hard place. There's Israel on one hand, and the Palestinian Authority - whom they constantly have to pressure to support their cause – on the other. The PA does its best to protect Palestinian farming communities in the valley and considers itself the last line of defence for any future, self-sufficient Palestinian state. But unfortunately, the Valley forms a third of the occupied West Bank, with 88 percent of its land classified as Area C (under the terms of the 1993 Oslo Accords), which falls under full Israeli military control. This film documents the struggle of Palestinian shepherds and farmers in the Israeli-occupied Jordan Valley as they try to cling on to an age-old way of life.