A couple of quick Israel/Palestine stories caught my attention today as I did my daily news rundown. Both have to do with the collective attitude in Israel towards the occupied Palestinian territories – how many believe that the Jordan Valley is not occupied and how it is acceptable to speak about murdering Palestinians on television. Yikes.
+972 highlights a new poll that shows that a staggering 63.5% of Israelis believe that the Jordan Valley is not occupied territory, that it is part of Israel proper. In case it needs clarification, the Jordan Valley is located in the occupied West Bank, deemed by international law to be occupied and not within the Israeli national borders. As +972 points out, that Israelis think that the Valley is part of Israel is hardly surprising considering the aggressive demographic ‘control’ tactics employed in the area since its occupation in 1967. In addition to creating settlements across the area, Israel has drastically reduced the number of Palestinians who live in the Jordan Valley, from 320,000 in 1967 to a mere 56,000 today. Moreover, only Palestinians residing in the Valley are able to enter through the checkpoints that separate the Valley from the rest of the West Bank.
Arun with a View tries to explain (though not to justify) why the majority of Israelis believe that the Jordan Valley is part of their country, concluding that the conflagration of occupied territory and Israel proper has much to do with the maps produced in Israel that do not differentiate between the two areas. The propagation of this ‘Greater Israel’ ideal through intentionally misleading cartography is certainly a component of the poor geography of Israelis, but the idea of a ‘greater Israel’ itself is also responsible.
As the Israeli population edges to the right, particularly in regards to Palestine, the inevitability of a viable Palestinian state decreases. One only needs to look at the current governing coalition to find evidence of how Israel views the potential Palestinian state. Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly stipulated that Israel would need to retain the Jordan Valley for ‘security reasons’ in any future peace deal, linking control of the Valley to the misleading secure borders meme that is consistently invoked by Israeli leadership.
Moreover, the Jordan Valley is one of the most fertile areas in all of Israel/Palestine, with plantations providing the vast majority of produce to Israel and Palestine. Additionally, control of the Valley ensures a certain level of water security as the Valley has access not only to the Jordan River, but also to the vast Eastern Aquifer of the Mountain Aquifer basin (Israel currently is over-extracting water from this basin and using 78% of the yearly extraction). Economically, therefore, the Jordan Valley is a valuable piece of land.
For this reason, it is unsurprising that Netanyahu continually claims that Israel cannot let go of the Jordan Valley. Yet, Israeli claims to the Jordan Valley did not start with the current Prime Minister. Immediately after Israel occupied the Jordan Valley in 1967, the Israeli government began reducing both the number of Palestinians in the Valley as well as the rights of those who were allowed to live there. The Sharon government had originally planned to extend the separation wall along the Jordan Valley as well, but – after pressure from President Bush – but contented itself with a strict checkpoint/ditch system that has effectively created an Eastern Separation zone.
For decades, the Jordan Valley has been referred to differently than the rest of the West Bank by Israeli politicians. Certainly, the absence of borders between Israel and the West Bank on Israeli maps play a large role in the geographical view of Israelis, but the economic and political value of the Jordan Valley has been long recognized by Israel. Consequently, the Jordan Valley has been referred to by Israelis as an exception to the occupation leading to the collective acceptance of ‘Greater Israel’ on a smaller scale; while many Israelis do not consider ‘Greater Israel’ (all of the West Bank) to be beneficial or likely, the annexation of the Jordan Valley is easily seen as both likely and beneficial.
I suppose that at least some of the respondents to the poll didn’t believe that the Jordan Valley was part of Israel, but rather they knew that the valuable piece of land belonged to Israel, just as East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights belong to Israel. In other words, the economic and political value of the Jordan Valley has created an ideological belief among many Israelis that the Valley should be and is part of Israel.
Thus, while some of the polled Israelis may have their geography corrected by maps with actual borders, others may simply see such defined borders as illegitimate or simply incorrect.
Photo from Demotix