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Ein Hiljeh: A symbol of resistance and hope

Hidden behind the leaves of palm trees, activists busied away resurrecting a village whose residents had long ago vacated. Until last week, the abandoned village of Ein Hijleh, in the Jordan Valley, just off a roaring main road, had remained silent since it was razed by Israeli soldiers nearly half a century ago.


Situated on one of the main arteries for vehicles travelling up and down the region and used daily by settlers living in one of the Jordan Valley's 37 settlements, Ein Hijleh is set in the stunning landscape of the slopes marking the border with Jordan, with the Dead Sea in close proximity and views of Saint Gerasimos monastery. In 1967 its Palestinian Christian inhabitants were forcibly scattered when Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan.

On Friday 31st January, scores of Palestinians activists, alongside international supporters, arrived at the site to reclaim the destroyed village in protest against peace talks they fear will further consolidate rather than end Israel's grip on Palestinian land. Shortly after, Israeli military jeeps also arrived, stationed just beyond the palms to keep watch over the village's new occupants.

In the early hours of Friday February 7, a week after they arrived, Israeli troops stormed the protest encampment and brutally evicted the activists who had taken up residence there. Dozens of people were arrested, and several were injured. The seemingly peaceful camp had already been under siege, with its water supply cut, food deliveries prevented and many arrests of its residents. On Monday night Israeli soldiers reportedly fired live ammunition and tear gas canisters into the camp, however it was the Friday early morning raid that put an end to the protest.

During that week, the stone houses of Ein Hijleh, which, preserved in their half crumbled state, had simply served as reminders of the homes they once were, were inhabited by a new generation of Palestinian families as men, women and children came to the village to sleep under the stars. The protest camp was hive of activity, with the community working hard to restore the village to some of its former glory.

Planned by members of Melh Al-Ard ["Salt of the Earth"] – a newly established youth dominated national action campaign, the village will be the first of many similar actions. Created under the cover of darkness, a similar encampment – named Al-Awda [Arabic for "Return"] – near Israel's "Bisan" checkpoint in the northern Jordan Valley, was stormed and evacuated by Israeli armed forces around midnight on Sunday, shortly after it was erected.

The group are protesting against the ongoing Israel- Palestine peace talks, led by US Secretary of State John Kerry, which are, among other things, deliberating the fate of the Jordan Valley. The talks which led to the implementation of the Oslo Accords in 1993 designated 95% of the Jordan Valley as Area C, temporarily legitimizing full Israeli military and civil control for the inhabitants of the region. Many have legitimate fears the latest talks will only aid further annexation of the area to Israel.

Diana Alzeer, spokesperson for the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, commented on the action, "We have decided to reclaim this village and live here to reject the current negotiations and the [John] Kerry plan and Israel's policy of annexing the Jordan valley."

What is happening here is ethnic cleansing. Houses are being demolished and natural resources are being used by Israeli settlers. Our message is that we are defending our rights and existence on this land."

"We are against the Jordan Valley being placed under a permanent occupation, or under the security of the occupation. Israel wants to put the area under occupation forever," said one activist who had paused from his work to have a cup of coffee.

The area has seen rapid depopulation during Israel's 46 year occupation of the West Bank, with fewer than 60,000 of the Jordan Valley's previous 350,000 Palestinian residents having remained in the region, which is today home to around 9,500 settlers.

While the outcome of the talks is yet to be known, reports on the potential plans for the Jordan Valley include a US security proposal which would reportedly allow an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River for several years pertaining to the security situation and supported by US drones. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has suggested deploying a NATO force, instead of the IDF, to protect Israel's security concerns in the region, but the Israeli leadership is seemingly reluctant to relinquish control of the strategically valuable Jordan Valley.

Within a decade of the first settlement being erected in 1968, 19 settlements were built in the region, 5 years later another 11 went up. The settlement farms making use of the fertile land and water resources earn an income from exports totalling around $128 million a year.

With water supplies annexed for the sole use of settlements, the continued confiscation of the Valley's fertile land, and the constant house demolitions, Israel has long seemed to be hoping to rid the Jordan Valley of its remaining Palestinian occupants. As silence descends on the Ein Hiljeh once again, the latest action shows the Palestinians voice, however, will not be silenced.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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