Jerusalem24 – The Jordan Valley. The rich lands were mentioned in various chronicles throughout history. The fertile soil and water made it an agricultural area about 10 thousand years ago. About 3000 BCE, produce from the valley was being exported to neighboring regions.
In 2022, produce is still being exported from the Jordan valley to all over the world. Despite the area being part of the Palestinian territories, the main exporters, however, are Israeli settlements, like Tomer. The largest cash crop are dates. More specifically Medjool dates. Making the Israeli settlers’ truckloads of cash in the valley, and a good reason to hold on to those lands. Dates have been farmed in the Middle East for thousands of years, and to this day countries in the Middle East and North Africa are the largest producers of the sweet fruit.
Jerusalem24 along with the Danish investigative media Danwatch and the Palestinian outlet Y+ have documented evidence that Hadiklaim and Mehadrin export dates produced in settlements to Europe. Investigators managed to interview Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley who admitted that the dates they farm are exported to Europe via Hadiklaim and Mehadrin.
In a post on Facebook, Hadiklaim’s official page posted “In the desert horizon that blends in perfectly with the skyline. With the touch of the sun on the trees and the aura of light radiating from it.” The post also had an image from the Jordan valley. There was also a video uploaded to YouTube by the Israeli Foreign Ministry showing the packaging of Hadiklaim’s dates in the Israeli settlement of Tomer in the Jordan Valley.
According to peace now, 94% of the land in the Jordan Valley, currently is restricted to the Palestinians.
While the settlers sell dates farmed in the Jordan Valley through companies like Mehadrin, exporting them to Europe and the world; a third of the Palestinians according to Human Rights Watch in the valley live in poverty. Since Israel’s occupation of the valley in 1967, the presence of Palestinians in the region has been decreasing.
Before the occupation, there was more than a quarter of a million Palestinians in the valley according to Palestinian NGO Al-Haqq estimates. Estimates today from Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said the number is close to around 60 to 80 thousand Palestinians.
Most of the Palestinians who remained have been unable to find any work other than the settlements to support their families. “There is no alternative, not even sheep, no water or land for grazing and agriculture,” says Amer, a Palestinian from one of the Jordan Valley communities who refused to reveal his identity. He adds, “if we don’t work, we would have to leave.” These Palestinians used to farm the Jordan Valley, planting bananas, dates, grapes, eggplant, tomatoes, and other produce. Today they are picking fruits and vegetables for the very same settlers that have confiscated their lands.
“The access to water is a matter of economic life and death,” says Michael Lynk, the United Nations special rapporteur on Palestine. However, the Israeli government’s complete control around the West Bank restricts access to water. The latter is an issue the Palestinians of the valley feel the brunt of. Amer says, “we used to take water from the spring. After they built the settlements, they took it all.”
41 years ago in June 1980, the United Nations Security Council voted for Resolution 465, which called upon the international community not to have any connection with the Israeli settlements. This call was echoed in UNSC Resolution 2334 in December 2016.
Omar Shaker, the Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch says that settlements “are violations of the fourth Geneva convention, they are war crimes.” As such businesses operating out of settlements are contributing to that right’s abuse.
Since Palestinians have little access to land and water in the Jordan valley they often work in the settlements. According to Human Rights Watch, they often receive salaries that don’t meet minimum wage laws. Sometimes, they work informally placing these workers in abusive conditions as they operate under different legal regimes. According to Lynk, “what you have in the end is a reserve Army of laborers who will work for virtually any conditions, for virtually any wages to be able to sustain themselves and their family.”
Date production in the Jordan Valley is also important to Israel’s economy. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Israel produces six times as many dates as the Palestinians. In 2019, Israel produced 43,412 tons of dates, while the Palestinians produced 7,729 tons, and the distribution of land used for production is equally unequal. In 2019, Israel used 47,990 Dunams of land for date production, while the Palestinians had to settle for 6760 Dunams. It has not been possible to determine how much of the Israeli date production takes place in the occupied West Bank.
On Mehadrin’s official website, they describe Medjoul dates as Israel’s prestigious “nature candy” that enjoys a unique taste. What they fail to mention is that flavor comes with the exploitation of Palestinian workers and the taking over of Palestinian lands.
Meanwhile, Palestinians living in the shadows of the settlements such as the Fasayil have nothing else to do other than pick and pack dates in one of the settlements surrounding the community they live in.
Most of them start working at these settlements from a young age. Oftentimes, they have no other options. 20-year-old Farid, who has just finished high school, would have loved to study at university or develop his talent in football. However, none of that is possible, he says. Shrugging his shoulders, all he can say is:
“This is how life is when you are born in Fasayil.”