Three weeks have passed since activists from the grassroots organization Ta’ayush, Arab-Jewish Partnership, were attacked by masked Jews near the West Bank settlement of Kochav Hashahar and no suspects have been arrested, a police source said. But the spokesman for the Israel Police in the West Bank told Haaretz that “an investigation was opened when the report was received and the case is still continuing, and at this stage we do not intend to provide details on the investigative actions conducted in the case.”
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The activists were attacked because they accompanied Palestinian shepherds from the Jahalin Bedouin tribe who live near the village of Auja north of Jericho. The shepherds are afraid to visit their pasture areas because of harassment by local settlers.
After the attack the Israel Defense Forces acted decisively. At the end of last week, the IDF issued six orders closing the area to Ta’ayush activists in five different places in the West Bank, and in one of them in violation of a ruling by the High Court of Justice.
On Friday May 5, when the activists returned to Auja, a military force blocked them even before they had reached the tent encampment and handed them a closed-military-area order. Signed by Col. Ofir Livius, the commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade, the order was in effect from 7 A.M. on May 5 until 7 A.M. on May 6.
The activists tried to take a roundabout route to reach the grazing area via Kochav Hashahar. There too they ran into soldiers carrying a closed-military-area order, this time signed by Brig. Gen. Lior Carmeli, the IDF commander of the division responsible for the West Bank. This order was to remain in effect for a month — from April 27 (a day before some 200 Israelis tried to demonstrate against the attack) to May 27.
The next day, Saturday, the orders were handed to activists who drove to the Umm Zuqa Nature Reserve in the northern Jordan Valley. At the beginning of January an unauthorized and illegal outpost was established there near a base of the Kfir infantry brigade. The IDF’s Civil Administration issued stop-work orders against the outpost, but it continued to grow. The young people from the outpost, who graze cows in the area, have created a circle of fear in which they forbid the Palestinian shepherds from grazing their animals.
Settlers’ water from the army
A month ago, the rights group Machsom Watch discovered that the outpost receives its water from an army camp. The IDF Spokesman’s Office said the water was supplied without the commanders’ knowledge. The unauthorized water connection was disconnected and on May 2 the outpost was dismantled and moved to the other side of the army base, within the nature reserve itself.
That Saturday, the Ta’ayush activists went to document the outpost in its new location. On the way there, soldiers presented them with a closed-military-area order signed by Livius. The activists said one of the soldiers explained that this was because the leftists were filming and making a mess.
The next day, Sunday May 7, the same thing happened and the activists were blocked on their way to the outpost with a new order. As they have done for the past 10 months, they wanted to accompany the shepherds from the Khalat Hamed community, a few kilometers to the north.
At the end of September, a new outpost with a large flock of sheep was set up there, and its armed residents would prevent the Palestinian shepherds and their sheep from reaching their pasture. The Civil Administration issued stop-work orders, the outpost is flourishing and the shepherds are afraid to go to the pasture. A military force once again blocked the activists and once again presented them with closed-military-area orders banning them from the area, signed this time too by Livius. And once again the shepherds were afraid to go to the pasture alone.
A day earlier, on Saturday, a different group of activists joined shepherds from the village of Umm al-Amad, southwest of Hebron. The shepherds are afraid to go to what is called plot 9 of their land because of harassment and threats by settlers from Otniel.
This is the very same area where, according to the High Court justices in an April 2014 ruling, “clear instructions must be given by the commander of the regional brigade and the Civil Administration to allow the petitioners ongoing access to the grazing land.” And a month later, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, then the commander of IDF forces in the West Bank, signed a permanent order to close the area to Israelis, which was directed against the harassers.
The justices, who heard the petition filed by residents of Umm al-Amad in 2013, issued their final ruling in November 2014: “We would like to add and emphasize the need for ‘keeping a finger on the pulse’ on the part of the respondents [the military authorities, the Civil Administration and the police], and including consideration of the need to open criminal proceedings against those who act repeatedly in an illegal manner to interfere with the petitioners’ access to the land. ... It is expected that the regional brigade commander will ensure the implementation of this ruling in word and spirit.”
The ultimate military order
But settlers continue to prevent the shepherds from reaching their lands; the shepherds prefer to graze their animals accompanied by other Israelis, activists from Ta’ayush. Together they arrived in the area that Saturday and immediately a number of men from Otniel approached.
The soldiers tried to convince them to turn back, but the settlers managed to go down to the wadi that was closed in the military order, threatened the shepherds and demanded that they leave. The soldiers found a solution: They didn’t remove the settlers, but first told the shepherds and the activists accompanying them to leave.
To augment their request, the soldiers presented a new version of the closed-military-area order, on which was written at the top: “Military-area-closure order with the telephone approval of the brigade commander.” It was signed by Capt. Neriya Gorzgory. The order said: “The military commander [Judea Brigade Commander Itzik Cohen] has ordered that no one may enter the closed area and may not be present there.” Validity: Until 9 P.M. the same day.
In response to Haaretz queries on whether the closed-military-area orders presented to the Ta’ayush activists weren’t a form of encouraging violence by settlers, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said: “As part of the IDF’s responsibility to prevent violence and preserve public order, actions were taken whose goal was to reduce the friction and prevent situations in which a fear of serious violence existed. Accordingly, on a number of occasions in which a concrete suspicion of disturbances and violence arose, orders were issued by commanders allowing them to conduct supervision and checks at certain locations and prevent the passage of anyone who might cause harm to the public order.”
As the IDF put it, “The orders are limited in time and their use is made proportionately and according to the commanders’ judgment, and their goal is to carry out the IDF’s responsibility. The security forces will allow the expression of protest but will not allow provocations whose goal is friction in the field. IDF forces will continue to act to protect all the residents of the region and their property in this challenging period characterized by numerous incidents of friction and violence.”
On Friday and Saturday, Taayush activists escorted shepherds in five locations, including Auja and Umm al-Amad, without military hindrance. They also reached the Umm Zuqa outpost.