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Chair of Friends of the Earth International Jagoda Munic reflects on the international solidarity mission to Palestine

My day started early. At 7.30 a.m. I met Dr. Ayman Ribi, the President of PENGON / Friends of the Earth Palestine. We head to Palestine TV together, to take part in a live broadcast of Good morning Palestine where we chat generally about the mission and Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), and announce tomorrow’s press conference. After the show, we go back to the hotel to pick up the rest of the team and head for the Jordan valley.

We visited the Ras Al–Auja canals, where a stream, once so abundant in water that a little dam was built a few decades ago, is now dry. It is hot and a desert-like landscape surrounds us. We stand next to the water pump facility. Our guide, an American who refuses to be filmed or pictured – let’s call him Jim  to protect his identity – explains: “Water pumping here is extensive, both from the surface streams and from aquifers. Israeli pumps go as deep as 400 meters, while Palestinians are not allowed to have such deep wells. Over there, we can see some villages that do not have access to water or electricity, although there are transmission cables and water pumps near them.”

Over exploitation of water from aquifers is occurring, but it is an even greater environmental injustice that denies or limits water access to Palestinian villages and towns in comparison with Israeli settlements. On average, settlements consume 369 liters per person per day (l/p/d), in comparison with 73 l/p/d of water consumption by Palestinian villages, which is much less than the WHO recommendation of a minimum of 100 l/p/d.  During our drive through Jordan valley this difference could be seen plainly. You can distinguish settlements with big houses, green areas and plantations of dates or other crops so green, in comparison with overcrowded and not so green Palestinian villages.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal according to the UN, but they are still spreading. There are now about 580,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Apart from over consuming water, the settlements cause a significant loss of agricultural land and uprooting of trees. They are also dispersed around the area like holes in  Swiss cheese. Not only do the settlements suck up resources, but due to their geographic distribution, they can control water pipes, sewage systems, and electricity lines, meaning that at any moment they can deny Palestinian villages and towns access to basic resources.

We drive further through the Jordan valley and visit local herders whose modest habitats – tents and huts mostly – have been destroyed by the Israeli army. They are trying to defend themselves in court and are determined to stay on the land they have used for about 50 years. There is a military base on a hill above the herders. Soldiers approach us in a jeep just a few minutes after we started to chat with the herders.

“What are you doing here?” they ask. “Nothing – we are just looking around and leaving soon anyway” I reply. Perhaps they do not mind us taking photos – indeed, a bit further away was another group including tourists – but we were had our friends from PENGON with us , who could communicate with the herders for us in Arabic. The soldiers stayed there for a while before they decided to leave, but not before they saw us start to board our van.

The last location that we visited in the Jordan valley is a Palestinian village called Zbeidat, from where there is a beautiful view of the valley. In the distance, we see mountains in Jordan. Somewhere in the middle is the meandering Jordan river.  Our hosts tell us that here the river is just centimeters wide, because of a lack of water in the bed due to interference upstream. The land between the village and the river, belongs to the villagers, but they can not do much with it, as it is in security zone C and controlled by the army. The villagers wanted to install a wastewater treatment system  to deal with the sewage from the village and to use it for agriculture, but were refused permission. Despite the land in zone C officially falling under Palestinian control, it is almost impossible to develop the infrastructure because permits for such construction are still subject to Israeli approval.

Part one of Jagoda Munić’s blog from Palestine
Part three of Jagoda Munić’s blog from Palestine
Part four of Jagoda Munić’s blog from Palestine
Press release from the solidarity mission
Real World Radio’s coverage of the mission

Image above: Radio Mundo Real