U.S. President Joe Biden is coming for a visit to Israel today. He is scheduled to tour the Palmahim air force base with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial – and of course to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid. There will be handshakes, briefings and speeches, but Biden won’t hear from any Israeli source how the occupation operates.
For example, he won’t hear about 10 shepherd outposts northeast of Ramallah, which within a few years have succeeded in taking over almost 30,000 dunams (7,500 acres) of Palestinian land, to prevent Palestinians from cultivating it and to evict at least 15 Bedouin families from their homes. Two of them were uprooted like that just in the past two weeks.
Neither Gantz nor Lapid will describe to the president how this pattern has repeated itself for years all over the West Bank: a tent or a hut and a sheep pen crop up from nowhere in the heart of grazing land, fields and orchards belonging to Palestinians. Suddenly it turns out that a single Jewish shepherd or a small family are the owners of a large flock of sheep or goats, or a herd of cows. They lead the animals to Palestinian fields and to the grazing land that has served them for decades.
The Jewish shepherds, sometimes on ATVs, at least one of them armed, threaten and even beat up the Palestinian shepherds and frighten and scatter their flocks. They have also attacked and still attack Israeli activists who accompany the Palestinians. The Civil Administration issues work stoppage orders to the shepherd outposts, but the outposts only grow and expand. And if some of them are destroyed in some kind of public display of governance, they are either rebuilt or moved a few meters away.
Nor will Biden hear that according to this pattern, Israel Defense Forces soldiers show up at the site of the attack along with the attackers or behind them, protect them and detain the Palestinians. And another pattern that repeats itself: A settler (or several settlers) who gives orders to the soldiers. And the Israel Police investigate the detained victims on suspicion that they are the attackers. Those who were attacked are sent to prison and released on excessive bail and without indictments, after the police were unable to produce evidence against them.
About 170 illegal outposts (some of them have been officially approved) are spread out throughout the West Bank. But the 77 shepherd outposts among them have succeeded in taking over a Palestinian area that is several times larger than that taken up by the built-up settlements and the “ordinary” outposts – about 240,000 dunams, as of now, as noted in the new investigation by Kerem Navot, an NGO that tracks Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
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Biden and his Democratic Party should be aware that this repeated pattern does not mean that the Israeli authorities are turning a blind eye. On the contrary, by allowing it they are admitting that the outposts serve the goal of Israeli governments – which is to appropriate more Palestinian land, and the more the better – and furthermore, in their eyes this goal justifies the violence of the settlers.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.