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This Israeli Eco Settlement's Problem Isn’t Tourists. It Is Abuse of Palestinians

Sarit Michaeli
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Mud homes in Rotem.
Mud homes in Rotem. Just a few minutes’ drive from the ecological settlement of Rotem, Israel is demolishing wretched tents and shacks inhabited by Palestinians almost every week.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Sarit Michaeli

According to Meirav Moran’s greenwashing article in Haaretz, the ecological settlement of Rotem in the occupied Jordan Valley has only one problem. Alongside its amazing views, mud houses and diverse array of residents – who run the gamut from religious to secular Jews, and didn’t come to settle the land, but “to see a full rainbow and the rising of the moon,” as they put it – tourists have also discovered this site.

But for the Palestinian shepherding communities that live there and earn a meager living from the pastureland in the northern part of the valley, the problem is local Jewish settlements like Rotem: Through them Israel realizes its vision of annexing the valley de facto, perpetuating control over its land and water resources, and pushing out the Palestinian residents.

The high road to achieving the latter goal passes through unending abuse of the Palestinian shepherds by the state and the army, using all the means at their disposal, in cooperation with local governments and, at the least, the turning of a blind eye when it comes to Jewish residents, until the Palestinians finally give up and leave.

A pastoral view from Rotem. The best contribution Rotem’s settlers could make to the environment would be for them to stop denying this reality while parroting cliches.Credit: Gil Eliyahu

The lives of the Jordan Valley’s herdsmen have been affected for decades by the restrictions Israel imposes on them. These restrictions prevent the sustainable development of these Palestinian communities, the construction of houses suited to their needs and the hook-up to local water and sewage infrastructures.

Due to these constraints, the Palestinian residents’ existence has deteriorated to a level resembling that of people who are undergoing a humanitarian crisis due to a natural disaster. But in this case, the humanitarian crisis is the work of human beings – a direct result of the policies implemented by successive Israeli governments for years.

Just a few minutes’ drive from the ecological settlement of Rotem, Israel is demolishing wretched tents and shacks inhabited by Palestinians almost every week, on the grounds that they were built without a permit, or in an army firing zone or a nature reserve – or in some other part of the 85 percent of the Jordan Valley that Palestinians are barred from using on various pretexts.

A truck converted into a home in Rotem.

Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank confiscates tractors and tanks that the herders use to transport water, since Israel has prevented them from being hooked up to water mains. And even the few Palestinian residents of the valley lucky enough to be allowed to buy water from Israel’s Mekorot Water Company get only a trickle.

The Civil Administration’s bulldozers have also destroyed solar panels serving the Bedouin community of Khirbet Humsa. The Palestinians aren’t ecological in the Israeli environmentalist sense, but they must have a solar energy system because Israel doesn’t let them connect to the electricity grid.

The Jordan Valley settlements aren’t just a theoretical problem, as implied by a Haaretz editorial last week. They are the direct cause of numerous examples of concrete damage done to specific individuals and to their communities.

A settler, resident of the ecological settlement Rotem, is holding a baby. Credit: Gil Eliyahu

Over the last six years, ever since the settlers began the accelerated construction of their own herding outposts – or “agricultural farms,” as they are euphemistically called – the level of harm Israel causes to Jordan Valley Palestinians has been ratcheted up a notch. Violence seems to be the business model for these outposts.

And even though the outposts were ostensibly built against the state’s will, they are being entrenched with generous government funding, perched on the tips of Israel Defense Forces bayonets. Effectively, they serve the state as yet another, unofficial, tool for implementing its policies – much like the Civil Administration’s bulldozers.

This space is too small to describe the scale of violence Palestinian shepherding communities in the northern Jordan Valley are suffering from local settlers, who are funded and armed by various Israeli government agencies. The settlers patrol the Palestinian enclaves, attack herders, threaten and also expel them, with the IDF's help, from places that in the past served as their pastureland. Every new outpost established in the area further restricts the lives of Palestinian shepherds, making it even harder for them to care for their flocks and support themselves with dignity.

A lazy evening at the illegal eco settlement of Rotem.Credit: Gil Eliyahu

Many of the attacks are filmed by the herders themselves or by Israeli activists who come to offer assistance and to report on events. The information is then disseminated via social media and sometimes even by mainstream media. The footage is thus readily accessible to the settlers of Rotem if they would like to know what's going on.

The best contribution Rotem’s settlers could make to the environment would be for them to stop denying this reality while parroting cliches like “the left-wing organizations ... come from outside and generate provocations.” Taking responsibility for their own contribution to injustice would be a first step toward changing this brutal reality.

Sarit Michaeli is B’Tselem’s international advocacy officer..

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