The Jordan Valley forms part of the larger Jordan Rift Valley and makes up almost 30% of the West Bank.
At around 400 meters (1,312 feet) below sea level, it is considered to be the lowest point on earth. With a diverse landscape, the valley houses the most rich and fertile agricultural land in Palestine.
It is also home for some Bedouin communities who settle on a seasonal basis in tents, grazing their goats, sheep and cattle. Most permanent Palestinian communities are based in the city of Jericho, one of the oldest inhabited areas in the world.
The word Jericho in Arabic conjures up the tangy smell of citrus, as it is a typical crop grown in the area. The city’s unique location below sea level and higher weather temperatures allow for crops to ripen early in the winter.
Despite its richness, and as a result of Israeli restrictions and policies, Palestinians in the Jordan Valley suffer high rates of poverty and unemployment. Some communities have been uprooted or had their lands seized for Israeli settlements. There are also many military and other restricted areas in the valley that cut off access to land and water.
Through the years, Anera has worked to improve the situation for Palestinians suffering under such harsh conditions. With a great focus on water access, agriculture, historical heritage, health and education, Anera has reached out to the most needy and marginalized communities in the valley, touching the lives of countless of people for many years to come.
The Jordan Valley is the food basket of the West Bank, producing the majority of its vegetables, citrus and bananas, yet farmers are struggling to get by. Anera has tried to address some of the problems facing them by providing sustainable economic solutions. Some of the hurdles Anera helped farmers overcome include:
- Lack of modern machinery to efficiently cultivate lands
- Competing with Israeli goods produced in settlements
- Movement and market access restrictions to markets
- Lack of access to reliable water sources
- Destruction of agricultural infrastructure, such as lands, barracks, stone terraces and irrigation networks.
During the 1980s, Anera assisted seven cooperatives across the West Bank in acquiring heavy machinery, allowing the members to rent them at a low rate and encouraging them to reclaim their lands. The Jericho Agricultural Marketing Cooperative was among these recipients, which benefited from a new heavy tractor. A loan program complemented this initiative, allowing for Palestinian farmers to reclaim their lands and start their own small-scale enterprises.
Also during the same period, the cooperative was granted the opportunity to operate a first of its kind packing and grading shed in the Al Jiftlik area. The shed was the first to export Palestinian produce to Europe. This Anera-funded project also included three years of technical support for member farmers.
In the early 1990s, Anera established a dairy in Jericho that specialized in the boiling and processing of soft cheese. This micro-dairy project was implemented in several locations throughout the West Bank during the First Intifada, encouraging farmers to become producers and promoting best practices in dealing with milk-based products. Anera also assisted many farmers and animal breeders in Jericho by providing them with much needed items like feeding bottles, milking machines and automated wool scissors.
As occupation has monopolized and even exhausted the water resources in the Jordan Valley, farmers are struggling to benefit from every drop of water. But with outdated water networks, exposed canals and man-made reservoir pools, the risk of water loss and contamination is quite high.
In 2006, Anera successfully completed a major water project in Ein Al Sultan. The six-year project modernized the Ein Al Sultan spring by replacing its system of open canals with a state-of-the-art system of piping and efficient water pumps.
The project also introduced a sophisticated meter system. Instead of randomly getting a limited supply of water for only a few hours a day, area farmers now have an unlimited supply throughout the day, with meters calculating the amount of water they’ve used. The equitable system not only has rendered reservoir pools unnecessary, it has put an end to contamination, evaporation and seepage.
Watch: Ein Al Sultan Water Project
The same system serves households as well, delivering one-third of its water to homes in Jericho for purely domestic use.
Even before this project came about, Anera had already delivered a smaller-scale water project benefiting farmers in the area. During the 1980s, in Az Zubeidat village, Anera built a 132,000-gallon reservoir and system of pipelines that connected water with farms. The same project was implemented at five other locations in the Jericho area, increasing the amount of irrigated land by economizing water and utilizing cost-effective tools and methods. Drip and sprinkler systems were introduced, as well as new varieties of crops that needed little water. Also in An Nasariya and Al ‘Aqrabaniya, Anera constructed water catchment cisterns in the early 2000s for agricultural purposes.
While military checkpoints and Israeli mobility restrictions inhibit tourism in the city of Jericho, Anera revived one of its most historical sites in 2008 in an attempt to attract more tourists to the city. The archeological site known as Hisham Palace was erected by an Islamic Caliphate, Hisham Bin Abdil Malik during the Omayyad dynasty, 1,300 years ago. It was destroyed in an earthquake in 747.
Anera’s project transformed the abandoned site into an attractive and safe destination for visitors. The renovation included rehabilitation of its museum, construction of restrooms and parking facilities, installation of handrails, signs and pathway markings.
It also repaired the half-kilometer long access road and bridge culvert leading to the site.
“I used to see visitors coming here and staying for less than 10 minutes and then leaving. Today, they stop and visit the site with happiness and curiosity to learn more about it,” says the ticketing officer.
In 2005, Anera built a spacious two-story public library, replacing a dilapidated two-room facility with a very limited number of books and little space for visitors and patrons. Located just outside Jericho, the library offers a quiet and safe place for children and adults alike to indulge themselves in an enjoyable reading experience, or partake in its variety of educational courses or cultural activities.
Anera has also boosted agriculture and made everyday life a little easier for villagers at five different locations in the Jordan Valley with the construction of a much needed street in Jericho city, a road and bridge in Al ‘Aqrabaniya, as well as sidewalks, retaining walls and curbstones in Marj al Ghazal, Az Zubeidat and Marj Na’ja.
A wholesale market was also established on the outskirts of Jericho’s city center in 2010 to minimize street congestion and reduce product exposure to air pollution. The market provides a spacious space for farmers to store and showcase their goods, and a hassle-free experience for shoppers as well in a safe and contained environment
Also in Jericho, young sports fans welcomed Anera’s installation of spectator seating at their city’s public soccer field. The same was provided for the Aqabet Jaber Refugee Camp youth club. Anera is currently building a two-story youth resource center in Jericho to offer specialized training and skill development to combat the high rate of unemployment among youth.
With the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, Anera introduced music into the lives of youngsters from marginalized communities and remote villages in Nablus, Bethlehem, Hebron and Jericho. The gift of music in Palestine was brought to hundreds of students of different ages through various music activities, lessons and summer camps, in close collaboration with schools and local centers and organizations.
There is a serious lack of infrastructure, furnishings and supplies in the Palestinian schools of the Jordan Valley. An Insufficient number classrooms remains the biggest problem faced by communities, as many students are forced commute to distant schools or to study in unhealthy and dangerous conditions.
For well over a decade, Anera has been addressing overcrowding and double-shifting by building new schools and adding classrooms onto existing buildings. Twelve classrooms and toilet facilities were added to two primary schools in Jericho and Furush Beit Dajan. Anera also built a new primary co-ed school in Al Nuwei’ma and rehabilitated a playground at a YWCA kindergarten in ‘Aqabet Jaber Refugee Camp.
Enhancing Water and Infrastructure
A great deal of Anera’s work in the Jericho area is related to water infrastructure and access. Anera replaced outdated and dilapidated water networks in Al ‘Auja, Al Jiftlik, Al Nuwei’ma and Jericho city, connecting thousands of households with a clean, steady and reliable source of water for domestic use. A water network was also expanded in Al-Kasab area in Jericho city, Anera has also erected six high capacity reservoirs in Jericho area, ensuring a regular supply of clean water at affordable prices.
During the rainy season in the Jordan Valley, rain can come hard and fast, causing flooding and wreaking havoc in communities by disconnecting people from their workplaces, schools, and health care services. In Jericho, Anera built a major drainage system that carries the water safely and effectively to the Jordan River and to depleted aquifers. In Jericho’s Wadi Al Qilt, gabions were added to ensure that the drainage is no longer posing any risk or harm to the people of the area.
Promoting Good Health
Palestinian hospitals and clinics across the West Bank, especially those in the more marginalized communities, suffer greatly from a severe decline in their infrastructure, which in turn impacts badly on the quality of health care services that they provide. From superficial problems such as peeling paint and water damage to major problems such as obsolete equipment and a shortage of doctors, the problems are widespread.
Jiftlik’s main clinic is run by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society and serves around 10,000 people. It is the only clinic in the areas to provide health care for people of the village and neighboring areas like Furush Beit Dajan. Before Anera’s intervention, the clinic was in miserable structural and sanitary conditions. Work included new toilet facilities and the replacement of pipes, windows, electrical wirings and ceilings.
The Jericho Government Hospital is the lone hospital in the Jordan Valley, serving 60,000 people throughout the Jordan Valley and even beyond. Anera renovated its deteriorated facilities in 2011. Work included renovation of major departments, construction and furnishing of a new dialysis unit and medical staff lodgings, and installation of wastewater treatment unit