Israel loses 4,500 dunams of productive farmland to Jordan

Part of the area had been farmed for decades by 39 families in Moshav Tzofar.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

In a subdued ceremony due to the coronavirus, Israel will hand back Thursday the last parcel of land it had leased from Jordan ever since a peace treaty was signed between the two countries in 1994.

Representatives of the IDF will join farmers from Moshav Tzofar in the afternoon event.

The peace treaty had stipulated that Israel would lease for a period of 25 years two areas of Jordanian territory that had been held by the Jewish state since the 1967 Six Day War. One was near Naharayim in the north and the other was the Tzofar enclave, situated some 60 miles from Eilat.

At the time, the assumption was that the lease would be periodically renewed. In an interview with Tzofar residents, Calcalist reported last week that the locals on both sides of the border had held high hopes in the early years after the treaty for cooperative farming ventures, but that the political situation did not allow for it.

In 2018, a year in advance, according the terms of the agreement, King Abdullah announced that he wanted all the leased territory back, and refused to negotiate any other terms with Israel.

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The Jordanian decision was linked to the strained relationship between the two countries, which has only gotten worse since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that it would formally annex the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea region, in accordance with the vision of Israeli sovereignty noted in the Trump peace plan that was revealed in January.

The land worked by the farmers of Naharayim was duly returned last November, but Tzofar was given a  reprieve until April 30 so that the vast bell pepper crop planted on some 800 dunam (200 acres) of the 4,500 dunam area could be saved.

No one could foresee that a worldwide pandemic would close the overseas markets and restaurants that bought most of this produce, and force the pickers to stay home.

Even a harvest harmed by an unusually wet winter and suddenly limited exit and entry hours at the border means that a few hundred tons of peppers have been left to rot in the fields as workers hurriedly tried to salvage equipment.

The Tzofar farmers are not only losing money on much of their current crop. The transition government which has been in place for the last year promised them NIS 36 million in compensation, which included substitute land a few miles north of their moshav.

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In the report, the farmers’ representative to the government, Erez Gibori, said that the money has yet to appear, most of the plots have not even been allocated, and it is of much poorer quality to boot.

There is a real fear that government’s delay and the enormous sums that would have to be sunk into rebuilding their livelihoods, which would deplete their life savings, may lead to many deciding to abandon farming altogether.