An Israeli human rights group Thursday called on Israel to uproot its settlers from the Jordan Valley, saying they use a disproportionate amount of its natural resources, DPA reported.
In a report titled Dispossession and Exploitation, B'tselem noted how Israel uses up most of the water in the valley, acting like the stretch of land belongs to its sovereign territory, rather than to the occupied West Bank.
Israel has also taken over most of the prominent tourism sites, the group said.
Israel's use of the valley, which makes up 28,8 per cent of the West Bank, demonstrates its intention "to de facto annex the area to the State of Israel," charged B'Tselem.
The valley is home to 65,000 Palestinians living in 29 villages, and another estimated 15,000 Palestinians living in dozens of Bedouin communities.
Some 9,400 Israelis live in 37 settlements established in the area, including seven outposts.
Yet the settlers, most of whom are farmers, use up far more water: 45 million cubic metres a year, compared to 31 million cubic metres by the much larger number of Palestinians, said the report.
The water shortage has forced Palestinian farmers to neglect farmland that used to be cultivated, or to grow less profitable crops, it said.
Mekorot, the Israeli water company, has said in the past that many Palestinian farmers illegally hook up to its pipe networks and "steal" water.
Israel has gained control of 77.5 per cent of the area, declaring large swaths either nature reserves, state land or military firing zones.
Municipal boundaries of the settlements cordon off 12 per cent of the valley, including the entire shore of the Dead Sea.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in the past said Israel should keep a military presence in the Jordan Valley, a demand the Palestinians have rejected.
Israel captured the valley, along with the rest of the West Bank, in the Six-Day War of 1967.
Israeli-run tourism sites in the area include the northern shore of the Dead Sea, the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls - the oldest known copies of the Hebrew Bible - were found, and Wadi Qelt, a river bed running from Jerusalem to Jericho that houses a sixth-century, cliff-hanging Greek-Orthodox monastry, as well as a first-century Jewish synagogue, said to be the oldest in the region.
Israeli military spokesman Guy Inbar said the report contained "a lot of incorrect information."