By Tom Anderson & Therezia Cooper
Vered Yeriho is a settlement Moshav (a type of cooperative agricultural community) situated on a hilltop just west of Jericho in the occupied Jordan Valley. Established in 1979, it is part of the Megilot Regional Council and has a small settler population of under 150 people. Like most other settlements in the Jordan Valley, it relies on agriculture for economic activity.
When Corporate Watch visited in January, we found one Agrexco branded and one other packing house operated by the settlement, and we have previously reported on interviews with Palestinian settlement workers working the Vered Yeriho fields.
Another, less talked about but growing, source of income for settlements within close proximity to the Dead Sea, is tourism. As anyone who has visited the Jordan Valley will know, it really is a unique environment in a breathtaking landscape – something the settlers are doing their best to capitalise on. Vered Yeriho hosts three guest houses: Jericho Inn, Pninat Vered and Desert Spa.
They all encourage guests to explore the wonders of the valley, from the historical sites around the Dead Sea to jeep and wildlife tour routes further north. Promotional literature on e-booking websites describes Vered Yeriho as being just over half an hours drive from Jerusalem on some booking sites, and the settlement is generally listed as being in Israel, visitors could easily arrive at their destination unaware that they have entered occupied Palestinian territory. In fact, on Corporate Watch’s last visit we even bumped in to some confused American tourists in the centre of Jericho who were unaware that they were no longer in Israel, having spent the day in a settlement Dead Sea resort.
The tourist map provided by Israel Hostels inside the settlement have no mention of the West Bank at all. As Corporate Watch has previously reported in an article on the nearby Jordan Valley Meeting Point, it is common for Israeli tourist initiatives to wipe Palestine, and all Palestinian communities, off the map in an attempt to distort the true situation on the ground.
The reality on the ground which these tourist spots are hiding is one of occupation and ethnic cleansing in an area threat of annexation by the Israeli state. There are over 50.000 Palestinians in the Jordan Valley and just 10.000 settlers. However, 44% of the land is controlled by closed military zones and 50% by the 37 illegal settlements – leaving the indigenous Palestinian population in control of a mere 6% of their land. With state owned Israeli companies controlling the water resources in the area, the rather small number of settlers in the valley receive almost 33% of the amount of water available for all Palestinians in the West Bank.
What the advertisements for settlement guestrooms do not mention is that the ‘stunning views’ from Vered Yeriho can only been viewed from behind razor wire fencing, and include a panoramic view of the Palestinian refugee camp Aqabat Jaber.
If tourists choose to visit Jordan Valley guest houses in the settlements they have to accept that they are relaxing in apartheid conditions. While settlements offer settler run jeep tours, hikes and horse riding excursions for tourists around the valley, the Palestinians who live there are denied freedom of movement and access to grazing areas for their animals on their own land. Where settlements have swimming pools, most Palestinians in area C of the valley lack access to running water.
Vered Yeriho’s guest houses:
Has Israeli, American and Canadian flags flying, indicating their main customer base. Highlights ‘Easy access to sites and hiking trails of the Judean desert’.
Promotes horse riding, camel rides, wildlife spotting and jeep tours in the Jordan Valley.
Specialises in spa treatments and boasts rooms with hot tubs and. Highlights Dead Sea activities and other Jordan Valley tours.
Booking sites and travel guides need to be confronted about advertising settlement accommodation. Below are some of the ones which promote tourism to Vered Yeriho. Few well known travel guides include this kind of accommodation so business mainly comes from generic travel sites which are harder to interact with. One way to have an impact might be to focus on review sites like www.tripadvisor.co.uk where you can submit information about the implications of visiting settler hotels and provide alternatives.
www.booking.com advertise both Jericho Inn and Desert Spa.
http://www.letsbookhotel.com advertise Desert Spa and Pninat Vered.
http://www.hotelsbycity.net advertise Jericho Inn, Pninat Vered and Desert Spa. The company running the site has offices in the US and Canada.
http://www.touristlink.com advertises Jericho Inn in their West Bank section.
http://www.infotel.co.uk advertises Jericho Inn, Pninat Vered and Desert Spa.