Accessibility links

Israeli, Palestinian Farmers in Jordan Valley Face Twin Crises

  • Scott Bobb

Hannan Pasternak is a worried man.

Pasternak coordinates the Netiv Hagedud cooperative of some 60 Jewish families who farm plots of about eight hectares each on this settlement in the Jordan River Valley, just north of Jericho. He helped found Netiv Hagedud 40 years ago on then-desert land loaned by the state of Israel. His son, now married, also farms here.

The 200 settlers grow peppers, dates, eggplants and grapes, mostly for export to the European Union.

Until recently.

Boycott fears

The settlement lies in the West Bank, which the European Union views as Palestinian territory. As a result, the EU will not issue the documents needed to market the settlement's produce in its 28 member-states.

"We are losing money," he said. "And we are afraid for our future."

Although EU officials deny it, this is part of a growing boycott of products from Israeli enterprises in the Palestinian territories. Pasternak said he hasn't sold a single crate of produce in Western Europe since November.

The settlement now sells its peppers in Russia. But revenue from its new clients is some 50 percent lower, which is below the cost of production.

More than two dozen Jewish settlements farm in the Jordan Valley, providing livelihoods to more than 8,000 settlers. Israeli authorities say their export revenues declined last year by 15 percent, or $30 million.

Israel's Manufacturing Association said exports from the Palestinian territories total less than one percent of all Israel's EU trade, $36 billion last year.

Its president, Zvi Oren, said EU cutbacks are not helpful to the region.

"If somebody wants real peace between us and the neighbors," he said. "They should use the economy to promote good relations. They should encourage projects. They should give incentives to joint-projects between Israelis and Palestinians."

Six thousand Palestinians work on Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley. They say the pay is up to three times that on Palestinian farms and there receive more benefits than if they worked for Palestinian entities.

"There is no alternative," one worker told VOA. "We are forced to work in the settlements. When you have a family of five, how can you stay home and sleep?"

But one of the Palestinian founders of the boycott movement, Omar Barghouti, said some Palestinians will have to suffer in the short-term in order to obtain justice in the long-term.

But farmer Pasternak said Israelis and Palestinians will suffer.

"If we collapse, so will they," he said of the Palestinians. "The decision is up to the politicians. If there is any agreement, real peace, we will not be an obstacle to it."

Palestinian water woes

There are different worries on nearby Palestinian farms.

They fear large-scale crop failures this growing season because of poor rains and continuing Israeli restrictions on water supplies and land.

A few kilometers down the road from Netiv Hagedud, 60-year-old Hussein Attiyat walked through the rows of young corn on his farm near al-Ouja.

The earth sifting through his fingers is dry, almost powdery. A few of the green shoots have grown through their protective plastic sheeting. But they are only a few centimeters high.

"Under current conditions, there will be no crop," Attiyat said. "If we had had water since we planted, the corn would be a meter high by now. The ears are due to sprout in ten days but they will wither and die."

Poor rains are partly responsible. But Attiyat says the Israeli government, which controls this part of the West Bank, will not let him bring water from the nearby Jordan River and will not let him drill a well to save his crop.

He installed drip-irrigation hoses in the plant beds, the same as those pioneered by Israeli farmers. But they are cracking and useless because the town's water supply (for farming) has dried up.

Yet, he says, pointing to a settlement under a nearby grove of trees, the Israeli farms have water and their crops are growing.

Fahri Nujoum, the mayor of al-Ouja, is also a farmer. He pointed to a town project where catchments and ditches were carved into the desert rock to bring water from a natural spring in the hills eight kilometers away.

"The spring dried up two months ago," he said. Pointing to a pumping station humming nearby, he added: "But the pumping station supplying Israeli farms is still working."

According to the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry, there are 1,000 Palestinian farms in the Valley employing 12,000 workers. They produce crops for local consumption as well as for export to Arab countries, Europe and Asia.

The head of the Palestinian Farmers Union, Daoud Hamoudeh, said the Israeli government imposes many restrictions on Palestinian farmers, but the most damaging is on water.

"Since 1967, the Israeli authorities have not given the Palestinians even one permit to dig a new well in the West Bank," he said. "And they don't allow the farmers to develop or rehabilitate any existing wells."

Under the Oslo Accords of 1993, the Palestinian Authority oversees parts of the Jordan Valley, like the town of al-Ouja. But most of the land is under the control of Israeli security forces.

Critics say the Palestinians lose a great deal of their water through waste and faulty pipes.

Many Palestinians believe that the Israeli government is trying to force them off their land. The government denies this.

Regardless, statistics show that Palestinian agricultural production in the Jordan Valley has been declining for some 20 years.

Show comments