State gives more land to settler farms in Jordan Valley

New measure gives 21 Jewish communities beyond pre-1967 lines 54,000 unused dunams, bringing total farmland to 110,000 dunams.

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June 29, 2011 02:16
2 minute read.
A settlement in the Jordan Valley [illustrative]

Jordan valley settlement 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The Settlement Division has agreed to double the amount of land that settlers can use for farming in the Jordan Valley. It also agreed to increase the amount of water Jewish farmers can use for their fields.

The newly allocated agricultural areas are all on state land and do not involve any private Palestinian property, the division’s spokesman Ofer Amar told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

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A government official said that the decision taken earlier this month but publicized only this week did not affect the status of the land, which already belonged to the state.

The new measure restores equity between farmers in the Jordan Valley, which is beyond the pre-1967 borders, and those in other areas of the country, such as the Arava, Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Lahiani told the Post.

At a time when for diplomatic reasons, the future of the Jordan Valley and the rest of the West Bank appears to be uncertain, the expansion gives farmers a sense of normality, Lahiani said.

“Until our fate is determined, we want to live a normal life. We want to feel that we are no different than anyone else,” he said.

The holding of each Jordan Valley farmer increases from 35 dunams (3.5 hectares) to 80 dunams automatically, based on the decision approved by the Settlement Division earlier this month.



Lahiani said that in some cases the expanded allocations allow for farmers to simply make use of land that was already part of their settlements.

In other cases it expands the settlement’s agricultural borders.

Lahiani said that the settlers now use 56,000 dunams of farmland. The new measure would allow them to increase their holding by 54,000 dunams, bringing the amount of farmland in the Valley to 110,000 dunams.

But he said, the growth would not happen immediately.

At present, he said, there is not enough water to farm all 110,000 dunams.

Until now, each farmer could use up to 42 cubic meters of water a year. Now they can use up to 51 cubic meter.

Danny Kritchman, who heads the Settlement Division, added that it was not possible these days for farmers to make a living with only 35 dunams of land.

The division’s director-general Yaron Ben-Ezra said that there were 21 settlements in the Jordan Valley, of which 17 made their living exclusively from agriculture, such as dates.

He added that 60 percent of the dates grown in Israel come from the Jordan Valley.

Technically, the Settlement Division is part of the World Zionist Organization, a nongovernmental agency. It has been contracted since 1967 to implement government-funded projects in the West Bank. In the last decade its mandate was expanded to include the Negev and the Galilee.

Although it had traditionally functioned under the Prime Minister’s Office, the Settlement Division was moved to the Agriculture Ministry in 2007.

Last week, pending Knesset approval, the cabinet agreed to return it to the Prime Minister’s Office. The decision to expand the Jordan Valley settlement’s agricultural holdings was taken while the division was still under the Agriculture Ministry.

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