The Jordan Valley Regional Council, whose jurisdiction covers most of the West Bank section of the valley, has confirmed that it has been involved in funding or establishing illegal West Bank outposts, but has refused to reveal information on these activities. The council’s explanation – that such revelations would disrupt its proper functioning – came in response to a Freedom of Information request. The council did not say it lacks the relevant information.
Oshra Yihye, who is the council staff member in charge of freedom of information, based the written refusal to divulge information on the fact that one of those filing the request had criticized the conduct of residents in unauthorized Jewish settler outposts in the Jordan Valley.
Israel’s Freedom of Information Law, which applies to all public authorities in the West Bank by virtue of a military order, does not permit refusal of a request due to the identity of the person filing it or because of that person’s political views.
The request was filed with the regional council in February by attorney Eitay Mack, who asked for information, documentation, resolutions and agreements made by the council to fund nine outposts and unauthorized projects in the vicinity. The latter include a racetrack near the settlement of Petza’el, which the press has reported on extensively, including mention of the council’s involvement.
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Mack filed the request on behalf of three human rights activists – Guy Hirschfeld; Dafna Banai, of the anti-occupation group Machsom Watch; and Itamar Feigenbaum of the Combatants for Peace coexistence movement. The three are among a number of activists working to ensure access for Palestinian farmers and shepherds to their land in the region.
Banai, who has been active in the Jordan Valley for some 15 years, told Haaretz that she noticed a common pattern behind the outposts, which indicates they were not an initiative by individuals: “Residents of the outposts are violent toward the Palestinian farmers and shepherds in the area, and I am in touch with families that have left their place of residence due to the violence,” she said.
The Freedom of Information request was prompted in part by a Haaretz article by Shakked Auerbach last September. The reporter had obtained a recording of remarks by Jordan Valley council head David Elhayani, in which, among other comments, he told a group of vegans who planned to set up an outpost in the area: “Establishing a community requires government approval, but we also establish communities without the government.
I ask myself whether I should be a Zionist and a criminal or to obey the law. We want to establish new communities and to capture territory. Isolated farms are an excellent solution for capturing territory, but it’s very unfortunate that at the moment, we are waging a battle with the Defense Ministry to approve additional ones like this.”
Elhayani chose not to respond to Auerbach’s report, neither confirming nor denying that he made the remarks.
In her refusal to provide the information sought by Mack, Yihye related specifically to the fact that Hirshfeld was one of those requesting it. She made reference to a Facebook post in which he called the regional council a terrorist organization headed by Elhayani. Yihye asserted that this was sufficient to justify a refusal to provide the information requested.
The Facebook post in question, which was linked to Auerbach’s online article, was removed a day later, after the council submitted a letter of complaint about it. Hirschfeld wrote a clarification, explaining that he had not intended to offend employees of the Jordan Valley council, but had been referring to the threat that he said the outposts pose to Palestinians in the area.
Yihye also claimed that Hirshfeld had threatened to turn local Bedouin over to the Palestinian Authority if they didn’t go to Jewish settlements in the West Bank to serve as “provocations organized by various people.” For his part, Hirschfeld told Haaretz that the accusation was baseless and absurd, and had been invented by right-wing individuals.