Inspectors from Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank impounded cows belonging to a Palestinian resident of the northern Jordan Valley earlier this month on the grounds that he had been grazing them in a nature reserve. However, the same Umm Zuka nature reserve has been used for grazing hundreds of cows by the residents of an unauthorized settlement outpost in the same area.
A week after they were confiscated, the Palestinian is expected to get his cows back soon, after paying a stiff fine. The Civil Administration said the payment is for the cost of transporting and maintaining the cows at its facility.
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The Umm Zuka reserve has been used by Palestinians in the area to graze livestock since prior to the establishment of the outpost two years ago. The outpost, which is known as Uri’s Farm, was built adjacent to the reserve. Since then, left-wing Israeli activists who have lent support to the Palestinians in the area have documented dozens of instances in which they say Palestinian shepherds have been harassed and attacked.
The inspectors from the Israeli Civil Administration confiscated four cows owned by Karami Daraghmeh, from the nearby Palestinian village of Ein al-Hilweh last week. According to relatives of his, two children from the family were grazing the cows but were afraid of approaching when they saw the inspectors, who the relatives claim were accompanied by Israeli settlers. The Civil Administration alleged that the cows were grazing in the reserve unsupervised and had previously also strayed onto a nearby road.
The same day that the cows were taken away, Daraghmeh contacted the Israeli army and was informed that the cows had been impounded for grazing in a nature reserve. Two of the cows had calves that they were still nursing, endangering the calves’ health when they were separated from their mothers, although the members of the family managed to feed the calves with purchased milk.
Lawyer Eitay Mack, who is representing Daraghmeh, wrote a letter of complaint in which he alleged that the Civil Administration inspectors and the settlers had acted in concert “while Uri’s illegal outpost, his flocks and the grazing land that he has taken over are inside the nature reserve and the firing range at Umm Zuka …” Mack called it “a scandal” and alleged that it was evidence of “selective and political enforcement.” Impounding the cows, he wrote, constituted abuse and might harm the calves, he claimed. In any event, the orders declaring the area a nature reserve don’t prohibit bringing animals onto the land, Mack alleged.
On Tuesday, following inquiries from Mack and from Joint List lawmaker Ofer Cassif and left-wing activists, the Civil Administration agreed to release the Daraghmehs’ cows on condition of a payment of nearly 6,000 shekels ($1,800). Rabbi Arik Ascherman of the group Rabbis for Human Rights is helping the family come up with the money and to buy milk for the calves.
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Dror Etkes, the founder of the Israeli nonprofit Kerem Navot, which works to counter what it describes as “the ongoing dispossession of land in the West Bank,” said that in recent years, roughly 40 unauthorized West Bank grazing outposts have been established that have caused major difficulties for Palestinians there, particularly Palestinian shepherds.
“We had a pasture area, but after they built the outpost, they haven’t allowed shepherds to enter the area,” said Madi Daraghmeh, Karami’s son. “They want to close off the area for themselves alone.” The Israeli Civil Administration confirmed that on November 9, its inspectors impounded the four cows, which it said were “wandering around the Umm Zuka nature reserve without their owner” following previous occasions in which the cows had wandered onto the road near the reserve.
The Civil Administration said that the presence of the cows on the road, unsupervised by their owners, could endanger motorists using the road and that the cows were impounded in accordance with regulations and within its authority, until the owner came to claim them. The owner “was required to pay the cost of transporting and holding” the cows, the statement added.