Al-Batuf – Facing Challenges and Confronting Government Policy

Publishing date: 25/06/2019
A consultative session at the Arab Center for Alternative Planning to follow up on the issues of flooding and farmers’ challenges in the Al-Batuf Valley
On May 31st 2019, The Arab Center for Alternative Planning and former MK Masoud Ghanaim convened a meeting at the ACAP office in Eilaboun regarding agricultural insurance and flooding issues in the Al-Batuf Valley, in cooperation with the farmers’ committee, and with the participation of MK Abbas Mansour (United Arab List) and the heads of local authorities: Dr. Safut Abu Riya (mayor of Sakhnin), Omar Nassar (mayor of Arrabeh), Munir Hamoudeh (head of Bu‘eine Nujeidat local council), Muhammad Hayadri (head of the farmers’ committee in Sakhnin), and many farmers from the region. 
ACAP Media and Projects Director Shadi Khalilieh opened the meeting, stressing the need to mobilize momentum in order to address the flooding damage and amplify the farmers’ demands before the government and the Ministry of Agriculture. The damage that the Al-Batuf Valley faces today amounts to millions of shekels, and the issues of environmental damage, infrastructure and roads need to be addressed, while major repairs will require government support. This can only be accomplished through cooperation between the heads of local authorities, MKs, and farmers. 
ACAP chairman Dr. Hanna Swaid likewise emphasized the need to develop a realistic plan of collaborative action between all parties in order to develop practical solutions to the problems that the farmers of the Al-Batuf Valley face. He referred to the issue of expanding the jurisdiction of the local Arab authorities, which does not include the territory of the Al-Batuf Valley, and condemned the fact that a town like Arrabeh does not contain within its jurisdiction any land in the Al-Batuf Valley. Dr. Swaid stressed that the utmost goal is to preserve the territory of the Al-Batuf and the rights of landowners. 
Former MK Masoud Ghanaim spoke of the challenges that farmers in the Al-Batuf Valley face as a result of the excessive flooding, such as pigs and rodents, which cause significant damage to their crops. Ghanaim stressed the need to work with Knesset members to establish a parliamentary lobby to support the issues of Al-Batuf Valley, as well as the need for cooperation between the heads of local authorities, establishing of a forum for heads of the Al-Batuf basin, and coordination with farmers and professional organizations such as the Arab Center for Alternative Planning.
MK and United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas said that he is ready to work for the Al-Batuf cause in cooperation with the heads of local authorities, farmers and other actors, in collaboration with Knesset members, indicating that he will initiate a proposal to establish a parliamentary lobby for this purpose. As for the jurisdictional boundaries of the Arab towns in the Al-Batuf Valley, he said he would work with local authorities on this issue. 
Arrabeh mayor Omar Nassar said that it would be more appropriate to set up a joint body to follow up on the Al-Batuf issues. He welcomed the other proposals, stressing that the local authorities are taking the Al-Batuf case before the Ministry of Agriculture and that there is a need for increased pressure on the government and the Ministry of Agriculture to establish the necessary budgets to address the conditions of the Al-Batuf Valley. Nassar said that large pipelines are currently being built along the National Water Carrier, to transfer seawater from desalination plants to Lake Tiberias. With the presence of these large projects, the government can contribute to an initiative that would prevent the over-flooding of the Al-Batuf Valley, but a political decision is needed first.
Dr. Safwat Abu Raya, mayor of Sakhnin, spoke of human relations with the land and the cultivation of this relationship, and of seeking to strengthen this connection with the Al-Batuf Valley through multicultural, educational, marketing and agricultural projects. On the issue of agricultural insurance, he stressed the need to demand a special insurance scheme that covers facilities and guarantees commensurate with the needs and specificities of the Al-Batuf Valley.
Mounir Hamouda, head of the Bu‘eine Nujeidat local council, stressed the importance of convening this meeting, and the need to follow up on the issues raised as well as promote popular action in order to realize our rights. Hamouda said that there are large budgets allocated to the Drainage Department for the Al-Batuf area, and that we should work together and cooperate in order to develop projects that are important to us.
"There is a need to put pressure on the government to allocate a budget to clear the drainage canal in the valley and allocate budgets for the rehabilitation and improvement of roads and agricultural routes damaged by the flooding, as was done in 2013," said Mohamed Hayadri, representative of the farmers’ committee in Sakhnin. Hayadri noted that there is talk of transferring treated water from the sewage treatment plant near Kafr Kanna to irrigate Al-Batuf Valley. 
Ahmed Al-Jarbouni of Arrabeh farmers’ committee said that the drainage canal should be extended to the west, because it proved effective in the early years of implementation. The canal should be regularly maintained, he continued, and demands should be made for access to electricity in order for farmers in Al-Batuf Valley to improve their practices. He underscored the need to establish a special coverage scheme for agricultural insurance for the farmers of Al-Batuf to ensure compensation for damages incurred by severe flooding.
Na‘aman Na‘amna, from the Arrabeh farmers’ committee, said that the farmers have given up 9% of their land for the canal project and the reservoir, which the government approved but did not fully implement, only partially digging the canal.
Arrabeh farmer Ragheb Awad spoke of his experience with agricultural insurance, through which he has secured his crops for 10 years. In spite of this coverage, he has not been compensated for the flooding damage because of a clause in the insurance policy that denies compensation in the absence of flooding drainage. Awad said that the drainage channel should be cleaned and the channels dug along the length of the valley, with running water flowing towards the drainage channel to resolve the flooding issues.
Ali Nassar of the Arrabeh farmers’ committee discussed the importance of highlighting basic methods of flooding prevention and the implementation of drainage projects similar to what the kibbutzim in the western part of the Al-Batuf Valley have implemented, digging channels in the flooded areas that allow water to flow through the drainage channels towards one or more primary channels. He also spoke of linking the current drainage channel to the Rummaneh Valley and facilitating the flow of water to the west.
Ali Nassar thanked all the participants and stressed the importance of the various proposals and contributions. He reiterated the importance of restoring the lands of Al-Batuf to the jurisdiction of Arab towns and villages to preserve them as an essential part of our public lands, and not to neglect them.
Dr. Hanna Swaid summarized the consultative session’s proposals and contributions:
• To promote belonging to the land in order to preserve it and its ownership and not to neglect it.
• To communicate with the appropriate bodies within the Ministry of Agriculture to hold a joint session regarding agricultural insurance, and to call for the preparation of a special agricultural insurance scheme for the Al-Batuf Valley. 
• To direct the Drainage Department to hold a joint meeting regarding the water in the Al-Batuf Valley.
• To direct the Ministry of Agriculture to allocate the necessary budgets for the restoration of agricultural roads damaged by rain and flooding.
• To go to the Ministry of Agriculture to intensify the work to curb the influx of rodents and pigs.
• To work on annexing parts of the Al-Batuf Valley to the jurisdiction of the Arab towns and holding a meeting with the Minister of Interior for this purpose. 
• To form the following pressure groups:
- Parliamentary lobby.
- Working group of heads of the Batuf basin.
- Popular and professional bodies of the people and farmers.
• To establish a professional body for follow-up and guidance based in the Arab Center for Alternative Planning.