The following reports are from our volunteers on the ground. Please help us spread information. If you are on twitter you can get our updates by following @jvsolidarity or @brightonjvs
The increase in community organisation since my last visit is so noticeable, and having a community base in the centre of the Jordan Valley makes so much difference. The house is much bigger than I expected with two rooms for sleeping, a room for storage and where clothes donations organised, and a really big communal walled area outside with palm branch roofing to keep us cool, where all the talking, working, meeting, eating and tea and coffee drinking takes place.
We had a fairly slow start (we know that won’t continue) after the drive over the mountains from Al Quds (Jerusalem) to the valley.
By late afternoon we were in a meeting of many local Jordan Valley Solidarity volunteers and internationals from Argentina, France (and, of course, us from Brighton and Sheffield).
Over the next few days we plan to visit all the communities that Jordan Valley Solidarity (JVS) have worked with to run water pipes – those who have succeeded and those that haven’t. We will also talk about the plans to do more of this work. These are all Palestinian communities in Area C, where Israel has absolute control and refuses to give permission for them to have running water – laying water pipes becomes an act of collective resistance to the occupation – as well as a means to survive.
We will also visit all the community schools that have sprung up over the last year: Ein El HIlwe, Koursiliyya, Al Auja and Al Farisiya, and the kindergardens in Makhool (nr Al Hadidiyya and in Al Jiftlik). Plus the now established schools in Fasayil and Ka’abne. Most of these schools are being run by local communities so their children can have access to a local school. Some are running classes all week, and some are running at weekends – will tell you more when we’ve been there. And, as with the water pipes, all being built in areas where Israel refuses to grant Palestinian communities permission to provide basic infrastructure, and where they shouldn’t have to ask for permission anyway!
The level of harassment from settlers has clearly escalated, especially in villages around Maskiyyot settlement such as Ein El Hilwe. Sirien told us about the most recent incident where a group of settlers took a young horse off a 12 year old boy, wrapped a rope around the horse’s neck, tied it to their truck... and I don’t need to describe the rest. The horse is dead and the young boy traumatised by what he saw. The attacks from the Maskiyyot settlers are now so frequent that everyone knows their names, who is the most brutal, and who to look out for. This brutality is not just for the sake of it, but reflects the increasing colonisation of Palestinian land by Israel – Abu Al Ajaj looked almost unrecognisable since I was last there 2 ½ years ago, and Maskiyyot settlement is full of bulldozers levelling the land for new settler houses.
There are so many homes and buildings in villages all over the Jordan Valley that the Israelis have issued demolition orders for, that it’s hard to keep track. The communities of Tana, Yarza and Kousiliyya (in Al Jiftlik area not far from Massu’a settlement) and Ein el Hilwe (part of Al Maleh) are the most vulnerable at the moment and we hope to spend some time there.
Whilst we’re here there are lots of other things going on. Dr Banan, a Palestinian expert in biodiversity from Al Najah University in Nablus is conducting a survey of wild plants growing throughout the Jordan Valley, many of which are unique to this area, with the support of the photography skills of a volunteer from Argentina.
There is fairly constant production of mud bricks (the work has just started outside so I probably need to stop writing and go and join in soon – purely an act of solidarity as I can’t see that I will really be that much use), and house renovations in several villages.
This could get repetitive... all in Area C, no building can be done without a permit from Israel, Israel turns down vast majority of permit applications so no point applying, this is West Bank so Palestinians shouldn’t have to go begging to Israel, all about ‘to exist is to resist’ – when you live in an area where a foreign occupier is carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing by denying you the right to have the basic ameneties you need to survive then to challenge that by creating the means to be able to survive is all about grassroots community resistance. Grassroots: JVS is run entirely by local community volunteers (so far we have met local farmers and university students all working as volunteers). They get funding where they can, but everything is done on a shoestring. Most of the NGOs (and there are so many in the West Bank you lose track of who is who) won’t fund this work as it is classed as illegal under international law and the NGOs won’t do anything which risks them losing permission from Israel to operate here.