Jericho Palestinians fear isolation in Israeli annexation

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a map of his plans in September, he pointed to a long blue zone to be annexed, leaving a brown speck in the middle: Jericho. (AFP)
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Updated 24 June 2020

Jericho Palestinians fear isolation in Israeli annexation

  • Netanyahu said the government could put the annexation plans in motion from July 1
  • Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War and more than 450,000 settlers now live alongside 2.8 million Palestinians

JERICHO, Palestine: Mamoun Jasr has grown hundreds of date palms near Jericho, but now the farmer fears being marooned on a scrap of Palestinian land if Israel forges ahead with its plans to annex the Jordan Valley.
A qualified accountant, Jasr has spent the past decade on an ambitious mission to learn how to cultivate his fields as an “act of resistance” against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
His palm grove now boasts 1,300 trees planted near the oasis city of Jericho, home to 20,000 Palestinians.
But the nearby area is also dotted with Israeli settlements, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says will be annexed along with the fertile Jordan Valley.
When Netanyahu unveiled a map of his plans in September, the premier pointed to a long blue zone to be annexed, leaving a brown speck in the middle: Jericho.
The idea of leaving the city under Palestinian rule, while the surrounding territory becomes Israeli, was also included in a broader US peace plan published in January.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War and more than 450,000 settlers now live alongside 2.8 million Palestinians.
Netanyahu said the government could put the annexation plans in motion from July 1, despite vocal opposition from a host of countries and the United Nations.
“Jericho will become an enclave,” said Jasr, inspecting his palm trees as they cast shadows across the plain, worried like many Palestinians that the Israeli proposals will leave him stranded.
The 50-year-old currently divides his time between his office in the city of Qalqilya, in the northern West Bank, and his farmland near the Jordanian border.
“Who knows if I will be able to leave to sell my dates? And who knows if I will be able to return to the ‘island of Jericho’ if I need to go to Qalqilya?” he asked.
The full details of Israel’s annexation plans remain unknown, with some observers predicting that Netanyahu could first annex only a few settlements and hold off initially on the wider Jordan Valley.
Even so, the uncertainty and fears that Jericho will become isolated are unsettling farmers here.
“What will happen to residents whose land is located outside? What type of permit will Israel give them to go and cultivate it?” said Judeh Aseed, from Jericho’s agricultural union.
“If we leave our fields for even one or two days without anyone taking care of them, they will become unworkable,” he added.
The land needs regular irrigation, Aseed said, raising concerns Israel could prevent Palestinian farmers from watering or fertilizing their land.
Jericho’s mayor, Salem Ghrouf, predicated annexation would trigger a “major economic problem” as many residents would lose their work.
“Jericho is the heart of the Jordan Valley and depends on surrounding villages, whose residents come and do their shopping and work,” he said.
For Ghrouf, trying to do a deal to grant Palestinian farmers access to their land after annexation would amount to capitulation to Israel.
“Jericho is part of Palestine and cannot be separated under any circumstances,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jasr remains uneasy and expects Israeli soldiers to arrive on his land imminently — and not for the first time.
Five years ago, he was served an expulsion notice by the Israeli army which claimed his date palms stood on Israeli land.
Jasr challenged the order in Israel’s supreme court and won, but he worries he will be unable to withstand annexation.
“If the army comes back, this time I have no chance,” he said. “I put all my money into this farm and now I’m scared of losing everything.”


Archaeologists unearth 27 coffins buried 2,500 years ago in Egyptian tomb

Updated 22 September 2020

Archaeologists unearth 27 coffins buried 2,500 years ago in Egyptian tomb

  • Egyptian antiquities officials believe the discovery to be the largest of its kind in the region

CAIRO: Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered 27 coffins that were buried more than 2,500 years ago in a pharaonic cemetery.

The sarcophagi were found at the Saqqara site in the governorate of Giza, south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

Egyptian antiquities officials believe the discovery to be the largest of its kind in the region. Saqqara was an active burial ground for more than 3,000 years and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Initial studies indicate that the coffins and shrouds inside have remained tightly sealed since burial, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

The discovery was part of an Egyptian dig in the Saqqara area which unearthed an 11-meter-deep well containing colorfully painted wooden coffins stacked on top of each other along with other smaller artefacts.

Khaled Al-Anani, the Egyptian minister of antiquities, postponed announcing the discovery until he could visit the site himself, where he thanked teams for working in difficult conditions.

Ahmed Abdel Aziz, a professor of pharaonic archeology at a private university, said: “This new discovery is not the first in the Saqqara archaeological area. Archaeological discoveries have increased over the past years which draw attention to this region.

“This prompted many archaeological missions from many countries to work in this region, trying to probe the depths of this region and the treasures hidden inside it.”

Al-Anani said the increase in archaeological discoveries and the number of projects recently implemented by the Ministry of Antiquities were down to political will and exceptional support from the Egyptian government.

He pointed out the importance of resuming the work of 300 archaeological missions from 25 countries after a hiatus of a number of years, including some working in Egypt for the first time such as the joint Egyptian Chinese archaeological mission.

There were about 50 Egyptian missions working at sites in governorates throughout the country and Al-Anani praised their efforts in helping to unearth more evidence of ancient Egyptian civilization.

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities, said that Saqqara was one of the most promising historical areas when it came to archaeological discoveries, adding that he planned to continue working in the area with his mission members to uncover more secrets and treasures of the past.

He noted that new finds during the current excavation season would have a positive impact on tourism in Egypt at locations such as Giza, Saqqara, Luxor, and Aswan.

Mohamed Abdel Hamid, vice president of the Egyptian Association for Tourism and Archaeological Development, said that the discovery was a testament to the architectural development of the area that could be seen in King Djoser’s collection. The pharaoh was found in a step pyramid which was the first tomb in Egypt to be built using stones.