News / Middle East

Israeli, Palestinian Farmers in Jordan Valley Face Twin Crises

Israeli Farmers in Jordan Valley Fear Boycotti
February 28, 2014 9:56 PM
Israeli settlers in the Palestinian Territories are facing a growing boycott of their exports, particularly to Europe. The EU, one of Israel’s largest trading partners, views the settlements as illegal and as a result will not issue the needed documents. Scott Bobb reports from Netiv Hagedud.
Israeli Farmers in Jordan Valley Fear Boycott
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.

Palestinian Farmers in Jordan Valley Face Disastrous Growing Seasoni
February 28, 2014 9:50 PM
Palestinian farmers in the Jordan Valley fear a disaster this growing season because of poor rains and continuing Israeli restrictions on water supplies and land. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from the town of al-Ouja.

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.

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Comment Sorting
by: aa
March 17, 2014 7:11 AM
Its easy to blame Israel, but the fact is that Israeli success is due to Israel's water technologies innovation, while the Palestinians as well as the Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians - all have falling agriculture outputs in recent years, because they are backward technologically and can't cope with the droughts ts of the last decade.

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
March 02, 2014 10:15 PM
Is US supporting Israeli's occupation of Jordan river valley?
In Response

by: Malachi from: Sydney, Australia
March 12, 2014 6:30 AM
You obviously collect your data from reliable sources, because the funny thing is that Israel and Jordan have a program in place that helps each other to grow produce in arid land. Find a reliable source perhaps before you judge
In Response

by: Marjorie Stamm Rosenfeld from: Plano, TX
March 04, 2014 2:08 AM
There is no "occupation." What sovereign country do you think Israel is occupying? The previous legal sovereign in Palestine was the Ottoman Turkish (not Arab) Empire, which gave up this region of its Empire at the end of World War I, in which it was on the losing side. What followed were the 1920 San Remo Resolution, which codified the 1917 Balfour Declaration and set up a Mandate system in which France was given a Mandate over Syria (now Syria and Lebanon) and Britain was given Mandates over Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and Palestine. All the territories of the Mandates went to the Arabs except for the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, by which Palestine was given to the Jews in which to reestablish their ancient homeland. Article 6 of the Palestine Mandate stipulates: "The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes." Most of the land in Palestine was, in fact, state land previously belonging to the Ottoman government. Settling it was precisely what the Jews were supposed to be doing and precisely what they have been doing. Please read these documents as well as the 1924 Anglo-American Convention, a treaty by which the United States ratified the Mandate for Palestine, and also read Article 80 of the U.N. Charter, which preserves the rights of all peoples given them by previous legal instruments. Under the terms of the Mandate for Palestine, Jews have a right to settle on any vacant Palestinian territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea not privately owned by other inhabitants. This Mandate has never been abrogated or amended and is still in force. If the Palestinian Arabs want enough land for a state of their own, they will have to get it from Israel. By here is a question: would you want to give land of yours to people who have been trying, for generations, to kill you and your loved ones?

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
March 02, 2014 9:37 AM
European restriction, Palestinian restriction, now Israeli restriction: at the end it is all restriction. Europe has always known the truth and continues to insist on falsehood. The Palestinians themselves know the truth but refuse to say it because they want to be seen as cheated, restricted or occupied. While we know that there is no occupied land, the Europeans continue to play on the world's intelligence by pretending they stand for the truth while all they have wanted has been a pound of flesh from Israel. We deduce this from William Shakespeare’s play – the merchant of Venice. I think it tells tale of what kind of relations exist in the mind of the British for the Jews. History tells us about Hitler and his Nazi Germany on one hand as covering much of Europe's attitude towards the Jews. On the other hand the story of Antonio and Shylock as told by William Shakespeare reveals another facet of the European behavior towards Israel, and we can see that there is no love lost in both cases.

Though Israel allies with Europe because of its rejection by its immediate neighbors, yet these continue to show how unwelcome Israel is in Europe by all the siding with Israel's enemies within its neighborhood. But this is the same Europe that rejects Robert Mugabe's confiscation and naturalization of lands in Zimbabwe now themselves constituting itself into a conscription force to deny Israel its right of ownership of its lands, some of which it has owned for thousands of years before ever a people going by the name of Palestinians was created. Yet USA, playing double deal, claiming to be Israel’s dependable ally, concurs with all of these atrocities. I do not believe what the present administration in USA is doing with Israel and the lands in contention, is what the founding fathers of USA/Israel relations had in mind or planned it to be. Then I could vouch that they wanted to be real foster, real super-protector, super ally with Israel.

Though they failed short of doing what they ought to have done to put paid to the question of occupied lands out there - as they did settle the case between USA and Mexico - but they could not have wished it to be what is currently going on in the matter. Diplomacy here has meant to deny Israel while the earlier idea was to diplomatically convince the Palestinians to return to their roots or agree to be part of the Jewish state. Even when the stage appears to be set to achieve a two states solution with border towns having mixture (or hybrid) citizens, it is the USA and Europe that continue to throw spanner into the works by insisting on total withdrawal. As the Palestinians refuse to know where they should relocate to if sacked from so-called occupied lands (and live in camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon), where are the Israelis in the settlements expected to relocate to when the two-state solution is achieved? Where is Israel to set up camps for its citizens that will be displaced from the settlements? In Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, or where?

Sometimes we consider how difficult these solutions seem and think maybe God too will not do what He’s promised Israel. But His promises never fail. It says, “ But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” God asks, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. “ This should enough consolation for God’s people. Peace be with Israel. Amen.

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