Part of New Israeli Nature Reserve Is on Palestinian-owned Land

The Wadi Og Nature Reserve, which encompasses some 5,500 acres in the West Bank, threatens to prevent Palestinian shepherds from pasturing their flocks on the land

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
FILE: Palestinian shepherds in the West Bank
FILE: Palestinian shepherds in the West BankCredit: Yaron Kaminsky
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

Israel last month established the largest new West Bank nature reserve since the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed, about one-quarter of which is on privately owned Palestinian land.

The remainder of the Jericho-area Wadi Og Nature Reserve is on state land, and in total it covers about 22,000 dunams (about 5,436 acres).

The declaration of a nature reserve limits the way the land can be used and could impact the Palestinian population in the area, which makes its living herding. The main significance is an associated ban on planting or grazing on the land without Civil Administration approval – a ban that Israel Nature and Parks Authority rangers are permitted to enforce.

Over the years Palestinian shepherds have reported that soldiers and rangers have prevented them from pasturing their flocks in the Umm Zuka reserve in the Jordan Valley, citing its status as a nature reserve. Israeli settlers, however, have been allowed such use.

In another case, in 2020, Haaretz reported that Palestinian-owned cows were confiscated by the Civil Administration after they entered a reserve, even as frequent grazing was allowed by cows belonging to a settler from a nearby outpost.

“This is not a matter of protecting nature but rather of taking control of land," said Israeli liberal activist group Peace Now. "In the occupied territories, nature reserves are one of the many tools that Israel uses to deprive Palestinians of their land." The group added that the government appears to be looking to deepen the occupation "by any means possible."

Over the years, Israel has declared hundreds of thousands of dunams as nature reserves in the West Bank, but no new ones had been established after the signing of the Oslo Accords until 2020. Early that year current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, then defense minister, approved the creation of seven new reserves in the West Bank.

Three of these – Wadi Tirza, Arvot Yeriho and Maskiot, altogether 10,880 dunams – were declared in a requisite Civil Administration order nine months after Bennett's approval. Yet the new Wadi Og reserve – fully twice the combined size of these other three – was declared only last month, and news of it was posted on the Civil Administration website only in recent weeks.

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