Driving through the Jordan Valley, it’s easy to think no one lives in this sparsely populated northeastern region of the West Bank. The landscape is stark and monochrome, a burnt yellow scene. But when you stop along Route 90 at a Palestinian village or farm—or even an Israeli settlement—you realize something: People live in the Jordan Valley. But some live better than others.
In “The Fading Valley,” director Irit Gal brings Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley and their economic struggles into sharp relief. Against beautiful shots of desolate landscapes, with hills cut by lines of shadow and light, and a topical focus on water access, Gal uses intimate character portraits to show the challenges of life and labor under Israeli military occupation.
Her characters are families of Palestinian farmers, Israeli activists, and a Palestinian truck driver who delivers water to people living on land cordoned off and deemed military zones by the Israel Defense Forces.
Gal quickly establishes the inequalities that exist between Jordan Valley Palestinians and Israeli settlers, opening her film with a few simple facts:
In 1967 Israel took over the West Bank.
The Jordan Valley is an inseparable part of the West Bank.
Number of Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley: about 80,000 (*others estimate this number closer to 60,000)
Number of Israeli settlers living in the Jordan Valley: about 10,000
80% of the water is routed to the Israeli settlements
20% of the water is routed to the Palestinians
Another important fact about the Jordan Valley not mentioned in the film is that despite its dusty, arid appearance, the region is actually quite fertile, and water resources are available (hence the reason agriculture and farming is so prevalent). Unfortunately, the water is not equally distributed between Israelis and Palestinians. Most of it goes to the 31 Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley, for home and industrial agricultural use.
As a number of Palestinians say in the film, Israeli settlers’ have plentiful supplies for watering lawns and flowers, filling swimming pools and growing a diverse range of crops for exports, like tomatoes, dates, bananas and herbs. This is all within view of the scant farmland remaining under Palestinian ownership, and the withering seedlings that fail to take root due to lack of water.
While Israelis living on the settlement of Ro’i use about 431 liters of water per day per person, Palestinians living in the nearby village of al-Hadidiya use only about 20 liters each per day.
Palestinians are only allowed to dig wells 150 meters deep, but Israelis dig to the aquifer. Any Palestinian wells at shallower depths quickly dry up.
Water is only the most pressing issue Jordan Valley Palestinians face.
The Israeli military prevents farmers from working on their land and shepherds from grazing their sheep by declaring areas “closed military zones.” The most that the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture will do for them is write a report, which won’t produce any results, Gal’s subjects say—especially since 95 percent of the Jordan Valley falls within Area C, land under complete Israeli military and civilian control. The settlements suck up land and water resources, and the military confiscates livestock and demolishes homes, sheep pens and any structures built without near-impossible-to-get permits.
Most disheartening in the film is the farmers’ recognition that their children, like themselves, have few prospects to improve their lives. Even when young people graduate from university, they can’t find jobs.
Still, one farmer is determined. “I’ll send my son to university if I have to beg. As long as he’s not a farmer like me,” he says.
But what should they do? How can they resist the injustices? An older farmer suggests protests, petitions, or legal means. If these options don’t help, he says they’ll have to break water pipes and take what water they can. We won’t go thirsty, he says.
Another Palestinian man works for Israelis, guarding the banana trees on a farm of Shadmot-Mehola settlement. He says 50 laborers from his area work on Mehola.
The man asks one young laborer from Tubas if it’s worth it for him to work on the settlement farm for $18 a day. The young man says he has no other choice.
And despite the lack of choice and opportunity to earn a living, the Palestinians in the film seem committed to staying on their land.
“I won’t leave as long as I live. What I ask of you is: Don’t abandon your land,” a father tells his teenage son as they pull weeds from their field. The son tells his father he should sell the land. They don’t have electricity, water, or Internet access. What girl will marry him and live this way, he asks.
The scene is a classic father-son dispute, with the child attempting to assert his growth and maturity while the father wishes to instill a life lesson in his son.
“You can abandon your mother, your father and everyone else, but don’t abandon your land. Never!” he tells his child.
The characters’ strong will and determination is admirable to watch, but overall it does not seem like there is much hope for change. Life in the Jordan Valley appears to be a waiting game. The film offers few ideas to address the dire inequality in the Jordan Valley. With limited access to water, land and other means of earning income, how much longer will Palestinians last before they begin to fade?