Flat White

Playing politics with the Jordan Valley

16 September 2020

8:15 PM

16 September 2020

8:15 PM

I first came across Andra Jackson back in 2009 when she wrote an article about a protest over a play ‘Seven Jewish Children’, which provoked passionate and diverse views from a panel of Jews and Palestinians.

In her report published by Fairfax she intimated that an hour before the doors to the performance opened that an effort was made to derail the performance when about 35 members of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students demonstrated outside. She went on further to insinuate that the students held a heated exchange with Palestinian supporters and tried to rush the blocked door of the theatre.

I was present at this event with Palestinian supporters shouting their customary annihilistic chant “Palestine Will Be Free, From the River to Sea”, but to the best of my knowledge Jackson was not. I witnessed no effort by the Jewish students and their handful of supporters, who were demonstrating peacefully, to attack the entrance to the building. I objected to her mischievous reporting at the time but to no avail.

This time Jackson has written an article titled ‘In the Jordan Valley, international deals don’t change Israeli policy‘, which is so laden with her pro-Palestinian prejudices that it would be deserving of a guernsey in Green Left Weekly.

To start with Jackson decries how “the rich resources of the Jordan Valley have been taken from its Palestinian inhabitants”. This is pure intellectual ignorance. In fact, the Jordan Valley was not fertile agricultural land until Israeli water technology after 1967 made it possible to reap and harvest in the valley’s extremely harsh climate.

From 1948 until 1967 the Jordan valley, known by international cartographers and historians as part of ancient Judea for the previous 2000 years, was illegally conquered and annexed by the Kingdom of Jordan as part of their bombing campaign against Jerusalem as a causus belli in violation of international law, and not recognized by the United Nations.

After being attacked by Jordan Israel conquered the Jordan valley and since then has administered the area, which has blossomed since under Israeli agricultural development. The Jordan Valley is not privately owned nor has it been the legal territory of another state since the time of the Ottoman empire.

Jackson repeats the oft-heard mantra that the settlers’ presence in the West Bank is on occupied land, which is considered illegal under international law. She needs to be reminded that the West Bank is disputed territory and that Israel by its deep biblical and historical connections with that land, as evidenced by an abundance of archaeological discoveries, has very strong sovereign claims to it.

Her biggest distortion is contained in her claim that before the 1967 war, 320,000 Palestinians lived in the Jordan Valley under Jordanian rule. A quick flick to Wikipedia will immediately reveal that she is completely wrong. From the Wikipedia article on the Jordan valley “Prior to the 1967 Six-Day War, the valley’s Jordanian side was home to about 60,000 people largely engaged in agriculture and pastoralism.”

It is evident that her population figure is a gross distortion intended to convey the false impression that the population of the area has been “ethnically cleansed” of Palestinians by Israel — a favourite trope of pro-Palestinian propagandists.

My other concerns with Jackson’s article are that she resorts to a pile of false information to make a case largely focused on the gripes of one Palestinian man Rashed Khudairi.

In this vein, Jackson exploits the highly politicized issue of the management of water between Israel and the Palestinian territories. She says with reference to the Oslo accords which stand as binding agreements that have been forged between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), “The Israeli government’s position is that until such time as Palestinians reach a final peace agreement with Israel, the provisions of these “interim” agreements — now in place for 25 years — with regard to water and construction remain in force.”

Area C of the West Bank is under full Israeli control according to the Oslo accords. There may have been an intention or a plan to hand that over to Palestinian control after 5 years as intimated by Jackson but the violence that the Palestinians inflicted on Israel following the accords and the various other breaches thereof have put paid to such plans.

Following the Oslo accords, Israel and the PA agreed to give the Palestinians veto power over any new Israeli water project in the West Bank in exchange for a similar veto power over Palestinian ones. However, that quickly came to an end as the Palestinian leadership adopted a politicized approach harming the very well-being of their own people.

The Palestinian Water Authority pulled out of the working committee designated to managed water resources in the West Bank, choosing to not co-operate with Israel. In the meantime, as Jackson has indicated Palestinian villagers tried to dig their own wells for water, but that is potentially damaging to the environment.

Jackson says, “Villagers used to go to the Jordan River to get their water but cannot do so anymore. She suggests that is because of a giant barrier by the Israelis blocking their access. The point is that individuals logically are not permitted to take water today from the Jordan river in order to rehabilitate the river environment.

The Jordan river once carried an average of 1.3 billion cubic metres of freshwater to the Dead Sea annually, which has been reduced to just 60 million cubic metres per year due to diversion of its flow by Israel, Jordan and Syria.

Mekorot is the operating responsible water authority; it is not appropriate for individuals to go off and drill their own wells wherever they might like. Such unauthorized wells ruin the shared aquifer as they have completely ruined the one in Gaza and caused an ecological disaster there.

In an aside, Jackson mentions the case of a couple of Palestinians who “were detained by Israeli troops and accused of siphoning water from Israeli supplies.” Palestinians are often unwilling and unable to pay for their water, so they siphon it illegally from Mekorot. The PA’s Water Authority does not maintain the water infrastructure provided by Mekorot, which has provided more than 95% of the West Bank residents with running water. Because of this failure by the PA large volumes of water in the West Bank go to waste through leakages.

In the on-going Israeli-Palestinian dispute it is very unfortunate that people like Jackson are permitted to express themselves with such one-sided partisan views that do not reflect reality. Only when we face up to the facts on the ground and view the situation in Israel-Palestine with more honesty will we ever see some progress being made toward a final resolution of the dispute. We need to see more of the kind of courage that has been shown recently by the UAE and Bahrain in normalising thier relationship with Israel and less of the negativity and misinformation that has been espoused by Jackson.

David Schulberg is the presenter of The Israel Connexion program on J-AIR Community Radio and director of the website JMedia Online. Readers can find a discussion of the subject of this article in this podcast.

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