If you follow the news on Israel and Palestine, you’ve probably heard about the Jordan Valley.
It’s the area of Palestinian territory that lies on the border between Jordan and the occupied West Bank. It’s a huge land mass, that spans over 100 kilometers and makes up nearly one third of the entire West Bank.
It also happens to be one of the primary areas that Israel has slated for annexation — a policy that would see the Israeli government unilaterally apply sovereignty to thousands of acres of occupied Palestinian land.
It just so happens that this policy is illegal under international law, and has been widely condemned by the international community.
As part of COVID-19 series in Palestine, we traveled to the Jordan Valley to see what life is like for Palestinians there as they fight two battles: one against the coronavirus, and one against annexation.
As we pass through the Jordan Valley you’ll notice dozens of clusters of small villages and encampments.
A lot of the Palestinians here are actually Bedouins and herding communities that rely on agriculture for their way of life. But because of Israel’s annexation plans they’re under threat of forcible displacement, threats that they say have actually increased during the time of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The coronavirus pandemic is everywhere in the world but in the Palestinian areas, specifically in the Jordan Valley we have two pandemics: the pandemic of the [Israeli] occupation and then the coronavirus,” Motaz Bisharat, a Palestinian activist based in the northern Jordan Valley told Mondoweiss.
“In this area, the occupation is even worse for us than the coronavirus pandemic. The occupation has taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to take over more land in the Jordan Valley,” he said.
According to Bisharat, during the time of the coronavirus, Israel has confiscated over 18,000 dunams of Palestinian-owned land in the northern Jordan Valley, and placed it under the control of the state.
Abdelrahim Abdallah, a resident of al-Hadidiya, a small hamlet in the northern Jordan Valley, is one of hundreds of Palestinians in the area who have had his land confiscated and his home threatened with demolition during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Healthcare is a human right. The Israeli government should have some humanity because of this pressure and pandemic that has attacked the whole world,” Abdallah told Mondoweiss from inside his home — a small tent made of tarp that sits upon a slab of concrete.
“But they have become worse in their attacks and pressure on us: raids in the night, arrests, bans on grazing, and attacks on agricultural land,” Abdallah said. “This is what the occupation is doing.”
Since the pandemic began, Abdallah and his son, along with other men in the village have been detained by Israeli forces on a number of occasions.
In one instance, Abdallah said Israeli forces accused him of “stealing water” from a natural spring in the area, that likes on Palestinian land, but was overtaken by Israeli settlers during the pandemic.
“More than 100 soldiers came at one in the morning, and we woke up to them standing above us,” he said. “They detained us and tied our hands, and covered our eyes, and drove us to a military base a few kilometers away.”
“They kept us there from 1:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., without water, without uncuffing us, and without even letting us use the bathroom,” Abdallah said.
On top of facing daily aggression from the Israeli military, Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley are living without access to basic necessities ike electricity, running water and access to healthcare.
The closest hospital or clinic where you can get tested for COVID-19 is around 25 kilometers away from al-Hadidiya, and takes 30 minutes to get to by car.
Even if residents could get access to a private vehicle they have to drive down unpaved roads and pass a number of Israeli military checkpoints and settlements on the way.
“For all our lives, we have not really had a proper life, because the occupation has denied us everything that we need to live,” Abdallah said.
“The only thing they can’t deny us is the air that we breathe. If they could deny us of it, they would.”
Motaz Bisharat stressed the fact that “the Fourth Geneva Convention requires the occupation to take responsibility over the area that it has occupied.”
“They should be providing healthcare, education, water, and everything here,” he said. “But despite this, the occupation offers absolutely nothing.”
In August, Israel struck a deal with the United Arab Emirates, making the UAE the third Arab country to normalize relations with Israel.
As part of the deal, the UAE claimed responsibility for stopping annexation. But Palestinians in the Jordan Valley say that the reality of annexation has been ongoing for years, especially during the coronavirus pandemic and is a policy that Israel will likely never stop seeking to enforce.
“The premise that the UAE made this agreement with Israel to stop annexation is complete nonsense,” Bisharat said. “Any civilian, any leader, any politician in the world who says that the occupation has stopped annexation is delusional.”
“The occupation has done the opposite. They have increased their attacks and have found that the coronavirus was the best time to execute their annexation plan on the ground.”
“Our message to the world, to the free people of the world is to put their country in the place of Palestine,” Abdallah said. “Do you accept for your children to live the way the Palestinian children live? Do you accept to lose your rights, the way Palestinians have no rights?”