Holy Land: Israel has effectively 'annexed' the Jordan Valley

 Israel is imposing severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, the eastern strip of the West Bank - which it has in effect annexed. This is the finding of research by the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem, published yesterday. The organisation says the army is forbidding the entry of Palestinians to the Jordan Valley, and only allows entry of those Palestinians listed as residents of this area. "Severing the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank severely violates the human rights of the Palestinian population. These measures were taken without any government decision or notice to the public," B'tselem said. Testimonies given to B'Tselem indicate that the IDF forbids the movement of Palestinians along Route 90, which runs the length of the Jordan Valley, and directs Palestinian traffic to side roads. Palestinians who have farmland in the valley, but do not live there, are separated from their land. The closing of the Jordan Valley has caused many Palestinians who live in villages bordering the valley and work in agriculture there to lose their source of livelihood. Residents of Palestinian villages north of the Jericho enclave are not able to host relatives and friends who live outside the valley or in Jericho. Women who married valley residents and moved there, but did not change their address in their identity cards, cannot leave their villages without fear that they will not be allowed to return. In recent years, Israel has set up seven permanent checkpoints west of the Jordan Valley, four of them around the Jericho enclave. In 2005, the army greatly increased the restrictions on Palestinians wanting to cross the checkpoints. In response to an inquiry by B'Tselem, which the organisation received in January 2006, the IDF Spokesperson's Office stated that crossing these checkpoints is allowed, in general, only to residents of the Jordan Valley who have identity cards in which their address is one of the villages in the valley. Other residents of the West Bank are allowed to cross only if they have a special permit issued by the Civil Administration, or in "humanitarian cases." This prohibition does not apply to the entry of residents of Jericho, but travel from Jericho north to other parts of the valley, including travel by residents of Jericho , is forbidden except by permit. "Palestinians caught in the Jordan Valley without a permit," the IDF Spokesperson's Office said, "are handed over to the police." In the IDF Spokesperson's Office's response, distinction was made between the " territory of Judea and Samaria " and "the Jordan Valley" indicating that Israel does not view the two areas as a single territorial unit. B'Tselem wrote to the IDF's legal advisor for the West Bank to ascertain the basis for this distinction, and to learn if military orders had been issued to formalise the closing of the Jordan Valley to Palestinians and the arrest of persons who remain there without a permit. To date, B'Tselem has not received a reply to its inquiry. Israel 's permit regime in the valley, together with statements of senior officials, give the impression that the motive underlying Israel 's policy is not based on security needs, but is political: the de facto annexation of the Jordan Valley. This annexation, similar to the de facto annexation of broad tracts of land west of the separation barrier, "constitutes a flagrant breach of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination", B'Tselem says. Israel initially planned to construct an eastern barrier to separate the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank. These plans were abandoned following international criticism of the route of the Separation Barrier as a whole, and the High Court of Justice's decision of June 2004. It is now apparent that what Israel was unable to achieve by a separation barrier is being realised through other means. The campaign says: "Since the occupation of the West Bank began, in 1967, every Israeli government has considered the Jordan Valley to be the "eastern border" of Israel and has sought to annex it. To strengthen its hold on the area, Israel has established 26 settlements and five Nahal brigade encampments there, which house some 7,500 residents. Over the years, most of the area has been declared state land and was attached to the jurisdictional area of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, which includes most of the settlements in the valley. As part of the Oslo Agreements, the Jordan Valley (except for the enclave around Jericho ) was classified as Area C, in which Israel maintained complete control." Recently, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a TV interview that the Jordan Valley would remain under Israeli control in any future agreement. Source: B'Tselem/JS

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