During my previous trips to the Jordan Valley I have written a lot about the settlements, but always from the perspective of staying in a Palestinian village close to them. From there, the settlements are repressive monoliths which surround most Palestinian communities and take up 95% of the water resources of the land. The residential parts of the settlements are physically next door but psychologically another world for Palestinians, who can not gain access to the everyday life of the settlers, “protected” as they are by closed iron gates and -more often than not- a soldier carrying an M16 gun at the entrance. The only part of the settlement the Palestinians might get to see is the business areas that sustain the settlers' existence in the Valley, and then only as the exploited labour force picking fruit and vegetables for less than half the minimum wage for companies such as Carmel Agrexco, Arava and Edom UK.
This time, however, we decided to try to get a look at what it is really like for the settlers who live in the Jordan Valley. We started by visiting Tomer - a settlement with one of the largest agricultural export areas and home to around 30 families. Entering Tomer feels a bit like entering Narnia through a hole in a wardrobe: one minute you are in the typical Palestinian area C community of Fasayil, and the next you are inside a settlement which feels like a miniature version of a Los Angeles suburb. The streets are lined with lush palm trees being generously irrigated through pipes on the ground, and there is bird song in the air. Because of the greenery, the normally repressive Jordan Valley heat is less noticeable, with the houses and public areas being located in the shade. There is even a fish pond in one garden – a symbolic example of the shameless use of resources by the settlements, considering some Palestinians in the valley are denied reliable drinking water by the Israeli occupation forces. Only yesterday (15/4/2010), the water pipes to Al Farasiya were cut and four water pumps belonging to the Bedouin community Al Maleh were confiscated by the Israeli army.
I do not mean to suggest that the settlers in Tomer live in excessive luxury - there are numerous illegal settlements which are way better off across the West Bank - but life inside Tomer demonstrates how easily a life with enough water and resources for all Palestinians could be created if they were given back their land, and how it is Israel's occupation and apartheid system that prevent this from happening.