Jordan Valley farmers fear for the future as Israel’s West Bank annexation looms

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A Palestinian farmer contemplating a view of the Jordan Valley from the West Bank town of Majdal Bani Fadil. AFP
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The Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)
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Updated 26 June 2020

Jordan Valley farmers fear for the future as Israel’s West Bank annexation looms

  • Palestinian prime minister approves steps to support farmers in Jordan Valley by paying their debts

GAZA CITY: Palestinian farmer Hamza Abu Thabet is becoming more and more worried about Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, on the borders between the West Bank and Jordan.
He has lived in his village, Froosh Beit Dajan, in the Jordan Valley for three decades. But he is increasingly anxious over his and his family’s future, which he feels is under threat and shrouded in uncertainty.
Israel’s annexation project has been given the green light by the US as part of President Donald Trump’s Vision for Peace plan. It could start as early as July 1 and incorporate up to 30 percent of the West Bank into Israel. Much of this land is already host to Israeli settlements considered illegal under international law, but is claimed by Palestinians for a future independent state of their own.
Abu Thabet follows everything related to the annexation plan with great interest and on a daily basis. Six families work on his 20 dunums (20,000 sq. meters) of agricultural land.
“I hear everyday the news and updates of the plan, but the most important thing is that I and the Jordan Valley residents do not know what will happen to us,” he told Arab News. 
There are about 12,000 people in the Jordan Valley and most of them depend on agricultural work.
“Our lives are in the Jordan Valley and I cannot imagine living anywhere else,” said Abu Thabet, who inherited his trade from his father and grandfathers. “Over the years we have stood up in our homes and lands, despite the oppression, the Israeli aggressions, and the restrictions on us in all aspects of life. But today the matter has become vague and unknown, and we do not know what they are planning for us.”
He believed that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had a lot to do in order to strengthen the resilience of residents and farmers in the Jordan Valley in order to face the annexation plan, even though political agreements say that Israel controls the area and is responsible for its security.
On Wednesday, Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayeh approved steps to support farmers in the Jordan Valley by paying their debts, pumping water from PA-owned wells and providing investors with easy loans.
Abu Thabet said that the PA should help Jordan Valley residents by developing infrastructure, water and electricity networks.
The Jordan Valley, an area of 450 square kilometers, constitutes 25 percent of the West Bank’s total area. It suffers from severe Israeli restrictions that hinder development and prevent the construction of homes and schools.
This tough reality was summed up by another farmer, Ameed Hajj Muhammad. “The Jordan Valley has been effectively annexed and completely controlled by Israel since the 1967 defeat,” he told Arab News. “Israel controls every detail of our daily life.”
Hajj Muhammad said that dozens of Israeli settlements, camps and checkpoints were spreading in the Jordan Valley and ruining their lives.
He owns a 15-dunum area of agricultural land where he grows vegetables and flowers, but struggles with irrigation and also has difficulties marketing his crop.
The Jordan Valley farmers depend on sourcing water from wells dating back decades as Israel prevents them from drilling new ones.
Hajj Mohamed said it was not just the PA who had a responsibility to help farmers out. 
“Palestinians need to support us by consuming our products, such as vegetables, flowers and melons, so that the farmers can withstand the high costs resulting from the Israeli restrictions.”
Israel already controls 95 percent of the Jordan Valley area, according to Azim al-Hajj, who is director of the Agricultural Relief Association. Palestinian residents currently only benefit from 5 percent of the estimated 50,000 dunums of agricultural land.
Al-Hajj said that Israel’s most dangerous act against farmers and residents was denying them access to the 87 percent of water sources that it controlled.
Since the June 1967 war, Israel has issued 2,500 military laws to restrict Palestinian residents, and because of that, the population of Palestinians in the Jordan Valley has decreased from 250,000 to 12,000 over time.
The Jordan Valley has 36 Israeli settlements with a total population of 9,500 settlers, and most of these people work in agriculture.
Since 1967 the Israeli occupation has displaced more than 50,000 Palestinian residents from the Jordan Valley, sometimes entire communities, claiming that they live on military training grounds.
The annexation plan targets an area 10 to 15 km west of the Jordan River and includes dozens of villages and areas, according to Al-Hajj.
“What is required from the PA are real programs and a package of projects in the fields of agriculture, health and education. The results could be felt by residents in their daily life.”

COVID-19 crisis puts regional health-care occupations in the limelight

Updated 14 sec ago

COVID-19 crisis puts regional health-care occupations in the limelight

  • Health care takes center stage as COVID-19 pandemic underscores importance of the sector
  • Middle East wakes up to the indispensability of doctors, nurses and other health professionals

DUBAI: With the coronavirus pandemic showing no sign of ebbing in the absence of a proven vaccine, the importance of medicine and related sciences to humankind’s continued existence and well-being has been underscored in dramatic fashion.

As the crisis pummels economies and upends the lives of millions of people by taking away their jobs, restricting their lifestyles and compromising their safety, the world is waking up to the indispensability of doctors, nurses, medical assistants and other health professionals.

For a relatively long period of time, the appeal of these professions had suffered as careers in finance, technology and management exerted a powerful grip on the popular imagination, including in the Arab world. Not anymore.

The pandemic has made unprecedented demands on health-care systems around the world and proved that some sectors of the economic system, namely health care, are essential in every sense of the word.

The increased requirements are not just for surviving the current health crisis, say economists and career counsellors, but also to prepare for a more secure future for humanity.

A strong indication of this realization was found in the mass tributes paid to doctors and other health-care providers during the early stages of lockdowns. From Rome to Dubai, people cheered and clapped from their balconies to express their gratitude and admiration.

Many front-line medical personnel in the Arab region have lost their lives in the line of duty. And more will probably contract the infection if a COVID-19 cure continues to elude researchers around the world.

A health worker prepares to perform nose swab tests during a drive through coronavirus test campaign held in Diriyah hospital in the Saudi capital Riyadh on May 7, 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)

Referring to the global outpouring of appreciation for the medical fraternity, Hussein Shobokshi, Saudi businessman and commentator, said he was taken by surprise.

“For a while now, the field of medicine has not been in vogue. The glamor had moved to people on Wall Street, in accounting, finance, to bankers, lawyers and, to some degree, to engineers as well,” he told Arab News.

“Medicine was perceived as a tedious, expensive and taxing profession that stole your social life and made you pay a heavy price for it.”

Many people were not ready “to sacrifice all that for a tiny amount of returns. People didn’t look at it from a moral point of view,” he said. “They were looking at it from a financial perspective.”

In the future, Shobokshi believes, there will be a “revolution in terms of the demand for jobs in the medical field across the world” — the demand will be “massive.”

“The medical field is going to expand, and its definition, from a traditional, classical concept, is going to be reinvented, restructured and re-engineered,” he said.

Priya Babel, a career and education consultant, agrees, saying that the coronavirus crisis has brought about a new understanding both of the many job roles in medicine and health, and their importance in keeping society healthy.


Physicians to every 1,000 patients in population

- 2.6 in Saudi Arabia (2018)

- 0.5 in Egypt (2018)

- 2.3 in Jordan (2017)

(* World Bank)

People were reluctant to take up certain medical professions because they believed that “they were secondary to (the role of) a doctor, and not equally important,” but the pandemic has forced them to question their assumptions, said Babel, director of Dubai-based Uni Crest, an education and admissions consultancy.

“I feel that the shift in (careers in) medicine will be from treating the disease to a lifestyle-based approach. I am not saying there won’t be a demand for doctors, but there is also a great demand for physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and dietitians,” she told Arab News.

“A chest physiotherapist, for example, can teach people breathing techniques while they are being treated for COVID-19. When I say occupational therapists, I am also saying microbiologists because there is a lot of focus on treating the person, not just the disease. There are all these parallel science majors which have become as important, and I think people respect those equally.”

Biochemists, biologists and viral specialists will also be in demand, Babel said.

However, even if these professions find a place in the sun in the post-pandemic era, they have little chance of lessening doctors’ indispensability.

In the pre-pandemic era, the ratio of doctors to the population in the Arab region varied remarkably. According to World Bank data, the ratio of physicians to every 1,000 patients in the population was 2.6 in Saudi Arabia (2018), 0.5 in Egypt (2018), 2.5 in the UAE (2018), 2.3 in Jordan (2017) and 0.7 in Iraq (2018).

The challenges faced by health-care systems in the Arab world during the pandemic are mostly to do with the medical infrastructure’s capacity, measures to contain the spread of the infection and the timing of those measures.

A sharp imbalance between need and capacity developed as a result of a sudden increase in patient numbers, shortage of medical doctors and the lack of “the right equipment to treat patients,” said Babel.

Nurses and doctors pose at the temporary COVID-19 hospital built in downtown Dubai in the United Arabic Emirates after it was deactivated, on July 7, 2020. (AFP)

On an individual level, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of self-development in individuals, say experts. The extended lockdown has prompted many people to review their career choices, looking at what they need to do to support themselves in a future that will be very different from what they thought.

According to the experts, the increasing appeal in recent months of online courses in life-coaching, nutrition, meditation and well-being, to name a few, points to a shift in people’s thinking triggered by the pandemic.

The need to stay relevant in a post-COVID-19 job market is as popular a theme these days as is self-preservation through better management of stress and higher immunity levels.

“We will see more marriages between technology and medicine to ensure access to knowledge through apps, websites and webinars, simplifying the messages for the masses,” said Shobokshi.

In his view, the fight with COVID-19 has taught every nation that medicine is the new defense industry.

“For a long time, the Middle East in general — and I don’t discount any country in this statement — has been pouring money into arms and defense-related industries as a priority to secure their borders and skies, which were essential requirements,” said Shobokshi.

“However, the concept of the medical field as a defense mechanism, as we have seen in the COVID-19 experience, will lead to further investments in this sector.”  

Apart from channeling more investment into hospitals and medical centers, governments in the Arab world can “encourage recruitment of national and international talent to help fill the gaps,” he said.

Only time will tell if any of these post-COVID-19 scenarios will come to pass. What is certain, however, is that life after the pandemic will be different from before.

Even if a vaccine becomes available to combat COVID-19 in the coming months, the future is likely to be characterized by adaptability, fresh thinking and a renewed respect for the role of health-care professionals in keeping societies safe.