Israeli Settlers Who Build in West Bank Nature Reserves Now Facing Trial

Sad fate of West Bank environment: Caught between illegal Palestinian hunters and illegal settlement expansionists

Olivier Fitoussi

The trial of three West Bank settlers charged with opening a new road to the unauthorized outpost of Alonei Shiloh began this week. Part of the road passes through the Nahal Kana nature reserve.

Two years ago, a resident from the same area admitted in the same court to damaging a protected nature site: 15 Palestine oak trees (Quercus calliprinos), as part of the work to build the same road, which was meant to connect the outpost to the city of Emmanuel to the east. The defendant was convicted and fined 3,000 shekels ($800).

This is not just an isolated case of settlers invading a nature reserve. A number of outposts were built inside nature reserves – and many of them are flourishing and expanding. What is new in the case of Alonei Shiloh is that this time the Israel Nature and Parks Authority decided to take legal action against the alleged criminals. In general, the INPA works hand in hand with the settlers, and until now has never been in a hurry to act against their intrusions into the nature reserves.

The cooperation between the INPA and the settlers is continuing for now. Recently, the head of the local council of the settlement of Karnei Shomron, Yigal Lahav, met with residents. Lahav, who sees Alonei Shiloh as part of his town, told them of the plan to expand Karnei Shomron to the east, in the direction of Emanuel, to create a large urban bloc.

The plans were prepared in coordination with the Nature and Parks Authority, which is willing to conduct land swaps in which parts of the nature reserve will be transferred for the planned development, said Lahav. Karnei Shomron’s plans for the future include the Nahal Kana reserve as a precious natural resource to be developed in cooperation nearby communities, and to be made into a tourism site too.

Important source of income

This natural treasure is an important source of income for the Palestinian farmers in the area, too. They worked the fields in the area long before the settlers arrived and included them as part of their vision for developing the settlements.

The spokesman’s office for the IDF’s coordinator of government activities in the territories said: “A number of preliminary discussions have been held between representatives of the [IDF’s] Civil Administration [in the West Bank] and representatives of the [local] council, in which they discussed the existing possibilities for advancing this plan.

The adaption of the borders of the reserve for the development needs of the community, while preserving the resources of the reserve and overseen by professionals, were examined.” Cogat said that the plan is only in its preliminary stages and the planning process has yet to begin in the Higher Planning and Building Committee in Judea and Samaria.

The INPA and Cogat do not seem to be worried by the involvement of the Karnei Shomron local council in establishing and supporting the unauthorized outpost of Alonei Shiloh. Lahav also spoke about the outpost in his meeting with local residents, calling it Karnei Shomron’s youngest daughter. He explicitly admitted to actively helping to build infrastructure for the land without an approved master plan.

Lahav said this week in response to a request from Haaretz that Alonei Shiloh is one of the five neighborhoods of Karnei Shomron. “It lies on state land and within the [municipal borders]. Over 400 residents live there and the building plan for it, which is for 630 housing units, is in the process of approval and has received support from the Housing Ministry and the Israel Lands Authority.”

“We supply all the services to it in order to provide basic living conditions, until the final master plan is approved, which will be reached, we hope, in another few months,” said Lahav. “We are advancing construction only on recognized state land, and are developing the region for young couples from all over Israel.”

Road to block access

Building the road inside the nature reserve is more than just the damage to the vegetation and water cycle, said Aviv Tatarsky of the Engaged Dharma organization. “The road is a central stage in Karnei Shomron’s plan to expand to the east, into the space that the head of the local council says is ‘without Palestinian communities.’

The road will block the access of Palestinian farmers and shepherds to the wadi, and the linking of Karnei Shomron eastward to Emanuel will split the Palestinian space surrounding the stream into a collection of enclaves cut off from one another,” added Tatarsky.

The ring of houses and roads will most likely surround the nature reserves in central Samaria in the future, and some of them will be sacrificed to for the benefit of the settlements – with or without the agreement of the Nature and Parks Authority.

This is the miserable fate of nature on the other side of the Green Line: On one hand, the Palestinians are not really interested in it and systematically hunt the wild animals in the region. On the other hand, the environment there is abandoned to the whims of the Israelis.

When it is convenient for them, they protect the nature reserves and formulate plans to expand them. When the settlers’ interests enter the picture, they allow the construction of outposts and construction of roads – and even consider agreements to reallocate the area of the nature reserves to adapt them for development and construction.

The filing of indictments as a result of what happened in Alonei Shiloh was an exception, but it does not seem that this is a change in direction. Strengthening the Jewish hold on the land is the supreme goal as landscape around it disappears after they paved it over from every side.