About once a week we take a trip into the Jordan Valley.  Sometimes it is relatively routine — touching base with a person or a community, but most often it is in response to a call asking us to document and report on incidents — sometimes ghastly incidents — related to the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank.

The Jordan Valley is compellingly beautiful, even in the height of summer when everything is so dry.  The imposing hills on both sides of the valley are truly majestic!

In Yanoun, where we are stationed, we are 17.5 kilometres from the actual Jordan River, and easy walking distance from the edge of the valley.  We walk to the edge at least once a week and enjoy a commanding view of the valley.  Most often we do this at sunset.  Our viewing point is “a thin place.”  

Lately, the third verse of that great Welsh hymn, by William Williams (1717-1791), “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah,” comes to mind, as I find the overall scene or situation in the valley quite disturbing. 

When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside…”

In that hymn, crossing Jordan is about facing death without fear, and trusting that God will land you safe on the other side.

But that is not what my angst is about.  What I see are signs of the death of communities and signs of the death of some ancient ways of living on the land.  People are suffering.  The goal is to drive them off their land. 

Yes, some of this has been going on since 1967.  But, by all accounts, there is a rather ugly accelaration of harassment, demolitions, notices of coming demolitions (The army has a demolition budget that must be used-up by year end.), the confiscation of water tanks, sheep and cows (held for ransom by the army) and the denial of some of the most basic necessities of life to Bedouins and villagers (shelter, water, sanitation, and electricity).

I have seen port-a-potties — portable toilets — that are given demolition orders by the Israeli army as soon as they are erected for use.  This denies basic sanitation to numerous clusters of bedouins. 

We have talked to village leaders where good water wells have been demolished by the Israeli army.  This means land that had been irrigated for decades is no longer productive and providing people with a livelihood.  It means the village functions with fewer water resources.

I have stood, quite aghast, while villagers chronicle wave after wave of demolitions of their homes and animal shelters by the army.  All this is an attempt to erase whole villages from the map, displace people, and free-up Palestinian land for new settlements.

I have seen land that was confiscated from Palestinians decades ago, for alleged military purposes, suddenly given over to settlers for farm land — that land now irrigated and farmed. 

We have talked with farmers who have had to pay “ransom fees” to retrive livestock or water tanks which were confiscated by the army.

After a couple of months here, you start to see the outline of the strategy to take the Jordan Valley from the Palestinians.

I came to these experiences knowing only a little bit about the geography of the Jordan River Valley and the Dead Sea.  But a couple weeks ago, I wanted to know more, so I went online and was surprised to learn that the Jordan Valley is a “rift valley.”  “The Dead Sea Rift” is a natural boundary which separates the Arabian plate from the African plate.  (A case for fusion cooking, I think.)

Joking aside, I suggest there is also a political rift here.  And that rift is not just between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  I think the wider international community has accepted — even trusted (in peace accords) — that a future Palestine would embrace or retain the West Bank in some kind of a “two-state solution.”  (Something reasonably close to the 1949, 1967 “Green Line.”)

By all signs, Israel is poised to take the Jordan Valley.  It is in the process of driving as many Palestinians as possible out of the Jordan Valley — with a view to annexing the valley holus bolus!

In fact, several Israeli politicians have said there will be no State of Israel without the Jordan Valley.  Obviously, the valley is a very productive area with enough water, if the water is carefully managed (which it is not at the moment). 

Further, if we ever get to a two state solution, Palestine will not be the West Bank anymore — as Israel will relinquish the West Bank, but continue to hold it tight.  This is exactly what it is doing now, by virture of a military occupation that declares the area as “Area C” — which means “for military purposes” and “under military control.”

Yes, there is a rift involving public perception and international expectations!  There is a rift between our hopes and expectations in the international community, and the emerging reality on the ground! 

I see — or anticipate– the loss of the West Bank for Palestine!  I fear for what will be for the Palestinains as they are forced onto smaller and smaller tracts of land.

As I “pilgrim through this barren land,” I am grateful for glimpses of some ancient ways of life that are disappearing quickly.  I am grateful for those glimpses of what was.

Do guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah!  Bid the root cause of my anxious fears to subside!

Guide us, O Thou Great Jehovah!

Grace and peace,

Jim 

I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  Should you wish to re-post, or to publicize any of this content, I welcome your direct requests, via the comments section in this blog.  Thank you

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