Inspectors of the Civil Administration and police last week seized shelters and equipment from Bedouin Palestinian shepherds at Ras al-Tin, northeast of Ramallah, though they had been using the land there with permission.
The land is registered and privately owned by Palestinians living in the nearby town of Kafr Malik, who entered into a contract with the shepherding community, allowing them to spend the summer months there with their flocks. The shepherds have been using the site as their summer domicile for 21 years. But last Wednesday, inspectors from Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank accompanied by border police officers confiscated all 13 residential tents, the sheepfolds, seven water storage tanks, two wagons, a tractor, and solar panels that were the community’s only source of electricity. Community members said this is the first time they have had their belongings seized.
The community regularly migrates between two places. During the winter, they live on a mountain ridge and draw water from a nearby well. When the well dries up as summer approaches, about 80 members of the community have been routinely moving to Ras al-Tin, where they can get water from the Ein Samia spring for themselves and their animals. Most of these people hail from the Kaabneh tribe, which Israel evicted from their lands in the South Hebron Hills in 1971.
Ras al-Tin is near the settlement of Kokhav Hashahar and its nearby quarry, which is illegal under international law banning the extraction of natural resources from occupied territory.
The residents said that during the confiscation operation, the Israelis emptied the water tanks without allowing them to first fill bottles. Moreover, the area was declared a closed military zone for the duration of the operation, so the residents were stuck there for hours in the heat, with no shade and no water. Residents also said that several of them were hit with pepper spray when they tried to gather their belongings. In addition, some said that one resident was thrown to the ground and severely beaten with a rifle butt, then detained for about four hours.
One resident, Ahmed Mohammed Kaabneh, said that a few days earlier, a Civil Administration inspector came to the site and photographed all the structures. “I asked him if there’s a problem,” the 59-year-old Kaabneh said. “He told me there’s no problem and left.”
The next time he encountered Civil Administration personnel was on the morning of the confiscation. “They pushed us back, women, girls and boys. It was devastating,” he said.
After the operation, residents said, they were given five documents relating to the confiscation of the equipment.
Community members say the tractor costs 40,000 shekels ($12,000) and each of the storage tanks costs 7,000 shekels. “We have no way to run a refrigerator now,” said Hualeh Ahmed while standing in a small, improvised tent her family received from the neighboring community. “Now we have to milk less because we have nowhere to store the milk or any way to churn it quickly,” she added, pointing at the bottles of goat’s milk lying on the ground underneath the scorching sun.
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The residents also said some children were taken to a health clinic the next day due to dehydration. “It was very scary,” she added. “The children are terrified of leaving the place.”
Bedouin living in Ras al-Tin assert that the Civil Administration put them in its sights because of a school that was built for their children a few hundred meters from the compound. The pro-settler association Regavim campaigned against the school, telling the Civil Administration that it had been built without a permit. The High Court of Justice has meanwhile issued an injunction against the order to demolish the school.
Sara Hassan Salaam, one of the residents, took comfort in the fact that the confiscation transpired without anyone being injured. “Thank God no one was killed, but there is no Eid,” she said, referring to Eid al-Adha, the Muslim Festival of the Sacrifice, which started Monday night and runs through Friday. “Who can think at all about a festival?”
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the Border Police commented: “They carried out enforcement against a number of tents built illegally at Ras al-Tin. During the operation, equipment placed in the area illegally was confiscated.” The office further stated that the seizure had been within the powers of the authorities, and was done in compliance with proper enforcement procedures, as are routine enforcement actions in the area, in order to prevent illegal construction and to maintain law and order in the West Bank.
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“At the end of the enforcement operation, in compliance with the procedures, confiscation orders were served at the spot for all the items that were confiscated,” the coordinator stated, adding that in the course of the operation, about 20 Palestinians created obstructions and one even threatened to throw stones at the policemen, and was therefore was detained for a number of hours.