IDF soldiers in the West Bank
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Some settlers are employing a new strategy to get Palestinians evicted from their land in the northern region of the Jordan Valley, Haaretz has learned. A number of settlers, some of whom are residents of the Maskiot settlement, set up a "protest" tent next to a tent belonging to Bedouin herdsmen near Wad el Maleh, on private Palestinian land. Last Thursday, after the Palestinians complained to the civil administration, both the Israelis and Palestinians there were handed decrees declaring the area a closed military zone, signed by brigade commander Yochai Ben-Yishai.

The Israelis left, but so did the Palestinians, who had lived on the site for over 40 years. Security forces told Haaretz that although the military decree was short-term and was meant to prevent friction between the Bedouin family and the settler group, the Palestinians have not yet returned to their land for fear the settlers will return as well. Members of a committee for popular struggle in the Jordan Valley fear settlers will use the same method elsewhere, acting on the assumption that the authorities would only chase them off the land if it meant local Palestinians would be forced to move as well.

The family told activists from the Machsom Watch human rights group, who visited the site Tuesday and Thursday, that the settlers stayed up late at night and played loud music, and that the settlers' dog was harassing their herd. They went to the local IDF District Coordination Office to complain, they said, but both the DCO representatives and soldiers who eventually came to the site told them that the settlers could stay there as long as the Palestinians did.

Activists from Machsom Watch told Haaretz that the settlers themselves told them as much, claiming their move was a "protest" because the Bedouin "can pitch tents wherever they like."

Last Thursday, a large military, police and civil administration force arrived to deliver the closed military zone decrees to both campsites. Some Palestinian residents and popular struggle committee members who were present protested the decrees; one was arrested, as police claimed he attacked a settler. The activist, who denies the charges, was released on bail and ordered to appear in court within a month. By noon, the Palestinians had disassembled their tent and left for their winter campsite.

The IDF Spokesman's Office issued the following response: "The two tent encampments under discussion were erected last week. None of the parties involved had well-founded claims to the land. In order to separate the parties and out of concern that lives were in danger, the brigade commander issued a closed military area order - but only for a 50-meter radius surrounding the site and for a few hours. After the order was issued, they left the tents on their own, without the use of force."