Palestinian Shepherds Reportedly Assaulted by Israeli Civilians, Soldiers Near West Bank Outpost

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A Palestinian shepherd herds his flock near the Israeli settlement of Argaman in the Jordan Valley.
A Palestinian shepherd herds his flock near the Israeli settlement of Argaman in the Jordan Valley.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

Three Palestinian shepherds said they were attacked by a group of Israeli civilians and soldiers on Friday morning near a new Israeli outpost in the northern Jordan Valley.

According to the three, the incident involved three civilians and two soldiers and occurred within eyesight of the Israeli military’s Netzah Yehuda base, where a special ultra-Orthodox Jewish unit is stationed. The base is near the border of the Umm Zuka nature reserve.

According to the Palestinians, two of the civilians initially demanded that the shepherds leave the area with their flocks. They were then joined by two soldiers and another civilian who arrived on an ATV. The group allegedly detained and searched the Palestinians, took their mobile phones and beat them.

The Israeli army said that it isn’t familiar with the claims. “If a complaint is filed or if substantiated information is submitted, it will be seriously investigated,” the military said.

Just prior to the incident, the Palestinian shepherds managed to alert a few people that Israelis were approaching them in an intimidating manner. The information reached Rabbi Arik Ascherman from the human rights NGO Hakel (The Field) — Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights, who immediately called the police. Two hours later, the Palestinians were released.

The shepherds refused to leave the area and said their flocks have been grazing there for many years. Other shepherds joined them over the course of the day to ensure they weren’t attacked again.

At the end of 2016, there were multiple attempts to acquire land and building permits for the new outpost in the Jordan Valley. On January 4 of this year, Israeli civilians came in large numbers and started erecting various farming structures in the outpost.

As of the beginning of February, the outpost hosted a large water tank, a tractor, two large tents, all-terrain vehicles, two caravans, sheds, a generator and a horse. The outpost is populated by seven pre-army teenage boys, at least some of them armed, who say they grew up in settlements and dropped out of yeshiva high schools. Last month, they told activists from the Machsom Watch NGO that the “owners” of the facilities are two residents of a nearby settlement. The teens described their activity as volunteer work that fulfills settlement ideals.

Israeli activists told Haaretz that the so-called owners occasionally turn up at the site as well as at another outpost that was built a month or two ago in the region. The Civil Administration is aware of the new illegal outposts.

The teenage Israeli boys herd a dozen cows in the northern Jordan Valley. According to Palestinian residents of the area as well as reports by activists from Machsom Watch and another NGO, Taayush, the boys travel in groups and are always armed. They threaten the Palestinian shepherds and bar them from taking their flocks to pasture. On at least one occasion, they also threatened a man who came out to till his land, forcibly stopping him. The intimidation includes shooting in the air, scaring away the sheep and approaching the tents where the shepherds reside in a menacing manner.

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