Usually, the lies of politicians and senior government officials are annoying, and give us the feeling that they consider us to be dumb. But in one known area, the public’s stupidity is by choice.
From an Israel Defense Forces response to a request for information, some lies that we love to believe have been peeled off, like skins of onion. The lies are not found in the reply itself but rather concern facts that must be retold in full in order to understand the army’s laconic response.
I am referring to six outposts that are livestock and agricultural farms in the northern Jordan Valley, and are mentioned in that same request for information, submitted in August 2020 by several human rights activists. The outposts are known by the names of their chief cowboys – Tzuri, Uri, Asael, Menachem and Moshe – and there is also one belonging to the Amosi family in the Tene Yarok Farm.
The basis of the request is the question of whether Jewish farmers living in these outposts indeed received an exceptional permit to graze their herds in areas declared “firing zones,” while the army and the Civil Administration expel Palestinian shepherds from those same areas and destroy their communities (see Khirbet Humsa in the past two weeks alone).
The first lie is that the extensive firing zones in the occupied West Bank exist due to an objective need for military training. This lie was self-evident to the Palestinians the first moment concrete blocks were put in place in their own territory several decades ago warning of the danger of accessing their lands. Documents published decades after they were originally written or leaked prove that the Palestinians are right.
For example: There was a demand by then-Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon in 1981 that the army declare Masafer Yatta (a collection of 19 Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills) a firing zone, in order to curb “the spread of the Arabs”; and there are minutes of a closed meeting in 2014 where an IDF officer admitted, that “thinning out” the training maneuvers “gives rise to weeds” (namely, Palestinian communities).
The second lie is that, according to official maps, the above-mentioned outposts don’t even exist. Take a look on the Jordan Valley’s settlers’ council map and you will not find a trace of them. But in reality, as of last Friday, all six exist and are embedded along some 16 kilometers, in an area of some 100 square kilometers between the Palestinian village of Ein al-Beida in the north and the tent village that Israel keeps demolishing, Al Hadidiyah, in the south.
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The third lie concerns the demolition orders issued automatically by the Civil Administration against the outposts – the first of which was established in September 2016 and the last in November 2020. The demolition orders are valid, but the outposts are steadily expanding and thriving. The standard reply, that enforcement will be carried out in accordance with “the order of priorities,” is a marvelous combination of deceit and truth, to the point where they are indistinguishable: Heading the list of the so-called order of priorities is the mitzvah to disinherit and expel the Palestinians.
The fourth lie is implied by the demolition orders themselves: as though the outposts suddenly appeared, whole and complete, and entirely unexpectedly, and the moment they were discovered the law enforcers hastened to do their job and issue the orders. But the construction was done in broad daylight over time and before the winking eyes of army officers and soldiers from the IDF Jordan Valley Brigade. There’s the prefab home that was trucked in, the bulldozer that flattened the ground, the pen that was built for the cows and sheep, the road that was paved, the fence that is being built and will incorporate a nature reserve into an outpost, pipes bringing water in from a neighboring army base or settlement.
The fifth lie is what prompted Dafna Banai of Machsom Watch (an anti-occupation, grass-roots women’s group), Itamar Feigenbaum of Combatants for Peace and Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Torat Tzedek (Torah of Justice) to submit the request for information to the army, through attorney Itay Mack. Since the first of the six cowboy outposts was established, the activists have heard time and again from Jordan Valley Brigade soldiers and officers that the settlers received official permission to pasture their flocks in firing zones.
Following is the reply Mack got from IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, who is in charge of freedom of information requests: “The written permits granted by the authorized IDF bodies regarding entry into firing zones do not include entry permits into firing zones in the areas mentioned in your request.” So did the local brigade soldiers lie to the activists? Did commanding officers feed lies to their troops and to their own superiors? Are the superior officers being deceitful? Who knows.
The sixth lie is in the definition of these and several other outposts “individual farms,” from which one could conclude that every farm is the personal initiative of a different adventurer. There is no need to wait 50 years for a document that will reveal that all these farms share a single God. The similarities in their modus operandi and their wealth reveal a single pattern and a guiding hand, whose exact address makes no difference.
This is the pattern: The Judeo-Samarians are settling along the edges of firing zones and in areas that have been cultivated and owned by Palestinians for generations. Officially, their outposts are part of existing settlements. De facto they are deliberately far away, like the new settlements built as ostensible “neighborhoods” at a distance of several mountain peaks from the mother settlement – and then the entire area between them fills up with connecting roads, and Palestinians’ access to their own farmland or grazing areas are blocked for “security reasons.”
Setting up farms that grow crops – or raise livestock – is a trick that allows a quicker, cheaper and more efficient land grab than building additional housing units on a settlement. Here all you need is lots of government money, disguised as underground sources, a couple of adults driven by real estate lust disguised as religious excitement, sent by the mother movement, and young people with raging hormones and cool earlocks, rifles and pistols.
The farms are continuously expanding their circle of domination – whether they are protected by the violence of the soldiers and the lies of the authorities, or whether their owners exercise their talent for perpetrating violence against Palestinian shepherds. Or a combination of these two forms of violence.