Opinion |

In the West Bank, the Israeli Army Works for the Settlers

The military declared an illegal outpost named 'Uri's farm' a closed military zone. Citizen Uri is apparently so important that the colonel wakes up early for him and soldiers are busy enforcing a military order signed for him

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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'Uri's farm,' the illegal West Bank outpost that the commander declared a closed military zone to bar Palestinian shepherds and Israeli activists.
'Uri's farm,' the illegal West Bank outpost that the commander declared a closed military zone to bar Palestinian shepherds and Israeli activists. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Col. Udi Tzur, commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade, had something very urgent to do at 6 A.M. last Tuesday. He signed an order to declare a certain area a closed military zone (prohibiting people from entering and staying), by dint of his authority as a military commander in the West Bank. On the printed order, accompanied by a map, as required, the closed military zone was cited explicitly as “Uri’s Farm.” The closure was in force from 8 A.M. until 8 P.M., and didn’t apply to those whom the commander allows to stay there.

The words “Uri’s Farm” appear five times in the order and on the accompanying maps. Citizen Uri is so important that the colonel gets up early for him. Uri, whose full name we don’t know, is a citizen who is very dear to the country, dear to its heart and very costly for us.

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And many military personnel are busy carrying out the order signed for him: the above-mentioned colonel, the anonymous military legal expert who approves the order in theory or in practice, the typist who typed the words “Uri’s Farm” in the standard form, the bureau chief who coordinated, the soldier who picked up the copies of the order from the printer, the military driver who brings the ink for the printer.

Also, the person who made sure to deliver the order into the hands of three female soldiers and one masked male soldier, so that they could use it for its intended purpose: to wave it before the eyes of Israeli human rights activists, who were standing on the road in the Jordan Valley, and to inform them that they were in a closed military zone. Incidentally, that was a lie. A blatant lie. Because the activists were far from the area marked on the map as “closed,” the area known as Uri’s farm.

The farm, in other words, an unauthorized, illegal outpost, even according to the permissive terms of Israel’s colonialist laws, was built about two years ago inside the Umm Zuka nature reserve, near the army camp of the Lions of Jordan battalion. As is usual in Yeshastan, despite the stop-work orders issued against it, the outpost is only expanding and flourishing. It has a herd of cows and recently its residents began to sow on Palestinian lands in the reserve.

The residents of the outpost, like their friends in dozens of other outposts and settlements in the West Bank, also meticulously observe the commandments to frighten and expel. They threaten the Palestinian shepherds who live in the area and keep them away from their grazing areas. Until this outpost popped up, Palestinians from the northern Jordan Valley grazed their sheep in the area and in the reserve undisturbed. The purpose of the scare-mongering and the expulsion are clear: Strike at a person’s livelihood, and he will be forced to leave.

On Tuesday morning the activists accompanied shepherds Ayman and Diab, who come from the small village of Samra and were grazing their sheep and goats on the western side of Route 5788. A resident of the outpost drove his van past two activists, including Guy Hirschfeld, who were standing on the road near the entrance to the reserve. He stopped, photographed something, was seen phoning someone, then drove away. Meanwhile two women from Machsom Watch, a group of women who monitor the behavior of Israeli security forces at West Bank checkpoints, joined, one of whom was Dafna Banai.

“A military Hummer passed us by,” Banai told Haaretz, “and drove towards ‘Uri’s Farm,’ on the high-quality sandstone road paved for him. About 10 minutes later the Hummer returned and stopped next to us. A masked male soldier and a female soldier got out. Two female soldiers remained inside. The female soldier waved several papers at us and said: ‘You’re not allowed to be here, this is Uri’s territory and you aren’t allowed to enter here without permission from him.’”

Banai said that the female soldiers were gentle and polite, but the male soldier “was rude and violent. He grabbed the order forcibly from the hands of one of the activists. When the activist wanted to read it, he chased away the Palestinian shepherds who were grazing their sheep and goats next to the road with threats in Arabic (of the ‘I’ll fuck you all’ type), and almost hit Guy.”

The outpost in the Umm Zuka nature reserve.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The male soldier, whose mother tongue is Arabic, also called the police to come remove the ostensible “violators of the order,” but the police informed him about an hour later that they weren’t coming. The soldier’s threats against the shepherds forced them to go home earlier, with the sheep and goats.

The military spokesman said in response: “Last Tuesday, December 18, 2018, a report was received about a violation of a closed military zone order in the area of Umm Zuka in the Jordan Valley. A military force was sent to the spot in order to check the report, as part of the ongoing activity of the Israel Defense Forces to maintain public order and prevent friction in the region. In accordance with the closed area order, the activists were asked not to enter and a shepherd who entered the site was asked to leave. In light of the complaints of wrongful behavior by the soldiers during the presentation of the order, the proper procedures for such a duty were clarified with them and reinforced.”

In response, Hirschfeld told Haaretz that the order presented to them was valid only for the area of the illegal outpost, whereas the shepherds and the activists were far away from it. “Similar attempts to remove us and the shepherds, with false excuses, have taken place often in the past, and even the police understand that,” he said.

“For the past two years we have been accompanying the communities at the site due to repeated harassment on the part of the gang in the outpost and IDF forces that are subordinate to it. It’s regrettable to see the use of ‘our finest sons’ for this purpose, while distorting reality and telling a pack of lies.”

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