By EA Svenn.
“Who are [they] to tell me where I can take my sheep? This land is mine. I have my Tabu paper (land ownership document from Ottoman times), where is [his]?”.
We are in the shepherding community of Khirbet Samra listening to local shepherd Fawsi recount a recent encounter with a settler from the nearby settlement outpost. Outposts are small settler communities, often a precursor to larger more established settlements, which are illegal under both Israeli and International law. His story is tragically familiar. Bedouin communities like this one have grazed their sheep and more recently, as their traditional migratory way of life became untenable, cultivated fields in the Jordan Valley for generations. They now face severe access limitations to their land; forcing many to pack up and move to nearby urban population centres such as Tubas.
Situated in the northern Jordan Valley on land designated Area C under the Oslo Accords (a peace deal which saw the West Bank divided into three zones: Area A under full Palestinian Authority control, Area C under full Israeli Control and Area B where authority is shared); Khirbet Samra was once a thriving community of 50 families. Now, little more than a handful remain. The rest were forced to move by the combined loss of land to surrounding military bases and regular harassment by settlers from the recently built Mzoka outpost.
“Before the occupation things were good for us. We could go anywhere without being afraid. Even at night.” The feeling of injustice in Fawsi’s account is palpable. He and his brothers are only able to safely graze their flocks with the regular protective presence that EAPPI and our Israeli partner organization, Ta’ayush, provide them.
On our previous visit to the community, the shepherds were approached while out on the hills by 5 men and a boy from the outpost. They brought dogs with them and proceeded to aggressively chase the flock back to the “Palestinian side” of the access road which links the outpost to the nearest military base. The road has become a de facto demarcation line in the ongoing struggle between the Palestinians and settlers over who has the right to graze the land. The settlers say that they own the land and often try to prevent the Palestinian shepherds from entering it with their flocks. Fawsi’s father has legal proof of ownership of the land and the family have filed multiple legal complaints but to no avail. This harassment goes largely unacted upon by the Israeli authorities.
On this occasion, one of the settlers told the shepherds in Arabic that this was in retaliation to them chasing the settler’s cows from the family’s last remaining barley field. The grain from which, Fawsi’s family rely on to feed their animals during the valley’s long dry season.
The cost of this harassment is high for the shepherds. Not only does it force them to use more purchased feed to supplement the flock’s diet, many of the sheep at this time are pregnant. The stress of being chased at speed over rocky ground, on the occasion that we witnessed, caused nine lambs to be still-born; making a further dent in the next season’s budget and causing anguish to the shepherds who share a deep connection with the land and the animals they keep on it.
The abuse these shepherds endure reaches beyond harassment from settlers. EAs have frequently reported on occasions where the army have been called by settlers to remove the shepherds from the disputed land; stating that it is a closed military firing zone, to which entry is forbidden, despite the outpost’s cattle herders having free range over it. The State of Israel’s failure to act on the settler harassment and complicity in the prevention of access to land / livelihood are a violation of Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 46 of The Hague Regulations.
If the situation continues to worsen for these shepherds, they too may be forced to leave their land and way of life behind for the relative safety of Palestinian Authority controlled towns in Area A. The state’s involvement in this will constitute forcible transfer of protected persons by an occupying power; in violation of article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and International Humanitarian Law.
Despite their loss and the daily challenges they face, Fawsi and his family are determined to stay on. For them, simply to continue existing as they are, is an act of peaceful resistance in the on-going struggle against illegal occupation and a system of governance which actively discriminates against them.
Find out more about the use of military closures to transfer agricultural land usage from Palestinians to Israeli settlers here.
Ask your MP/TD to raise the issue of Palestinians right of Access to Land and Livelihood with the Foreign Office/DFA
Ask the UK or Irish ambassador to Israel to raise the issue of forcible relocation of Palestinian Bedouins with the Israeli Government