Agricultural Crossing Opens in Jordan Valley, Despite the Objections of Settlers in the Area

A crossing for agricultural produce from the West Bank marketed in Israel was opened Tuesday in the northern Jordan Valley, despite efforts by Jewish residents of the area to keep it closed. The Bezek crossing, for the use of Palestinian farmers in that area, opened as part of the easing of restrictions on Palestinians decided upon by the Defense Ministry. The terminal was built about three years ago on the Green Line, between the Jordan Valley and Israel, at the same time that Israeli merchants were no longer permitted to come to the Palestinian farmers in the valley to purchase produce directly. The Israel Defense Forces said at the time that the decision not to open the crossing, in which the defense establishment had invested millions of shekels, stemmed from security considerations.

Last month the Jordan Valley settlers started a campaign to pressure deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh into not opening the Bezek crossing. They drafted not only the heads of the Jordan Valley regional councils, which represent approximately 8,000 residents, but also local council heads from Israel and the Golan.

In a letter on December 5, they called on Sneh to dismantle the crossing or at least not to operate it. "Road 90 [the north-south road through the Jordan Valley] is a national road... in the eastern part of Israel. We, as heads of the local authorities that are the main users of the road... ask and demand that you not operate the terminal. Differentiating between the Jordan Valley and other areas of Judea and Samaria, and limiting Palestinian traffic gives more security to the residents of the Jordan Valley and those passing through it. The opening of the crossing will increase the number of Palestinians in the area and raise the danger level. The checkpoint as it is today already gives the feeling of entrance and exit from a 'problematic' area, and operation of the terminal will increase this feeling and will prevent innocent travelers and foreign tourism, which is so needed in our regions, from passing through it. The residents of our regions make their living from this tourism, and such severe harm to it is unacceptable."

Among the signatories to the letter are Duby Tal, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, Jacky Levy, major of Beit Shean, Dani Attar, head of the Gilboa Regional Council, and Moti Dotan, head of the Lower Galilee Regional Council.

Merchandise at the terminal is unloaded at the crossing from Palestinian trucks, and after a security check is transfered to Israeli trucks. A number of council heads met last week with Sneh and proposed that the transfer of merchandise using this method be carried out not at the terminal, but in packing houses at one of the settlements or one of the villages in the northern part of the valley, to keep Palestinian traffic off of road 90. Sneh, however, did not agree.

One of those present at the meeting told Haaretz that Sneh did accept their demand that the terminal, and travel on road 90 leading to it, would be permitted only to Palestinians who are residents of the Jordan Valley (some 50,000), as is the situation at present.

In recent years, the Jordan Valley's Palestinian farmers have had to transfer their merchandise to Israel via the Jalameh crossing north of Jenin, 50 kilometers away. Along the way, they encounter the Taysir roadblock, where the soldiers have developed a tradition of having them wait long periods, which results in the spoilage of produce and necessitating its sale at lower prices. The farmers union of the Jordan Valley has reported a 30-percent drop in income due to the restrictions.

The new terminal is not intended for individuals, and Palestinian workers who are residents of the Jordan Valley and have permits to work in nearby Jordan Valley moshavim will still have to get to work by going around through the Jalameh crossing.