IDF issues evacuation order to Jordan Valley Palestinian shepherd community

300 people maintain flocks and herds in area declared a restricted zone; army says action is against repeated illegal construction

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of a young Palestinian boy seen walking sheep in the Jordan Valley, May 14, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Illustrative photo of a young Palestinian boy seen walking sheep in the Jordan Valley, May 14, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The IDF has ordered some 300 Palestinians to evacuate an area in the Jordan Valley where they have been living, mostly in a collection of shacks and tents used by shepherds and their flocks, the Haaretz daily reported Sunday.

The order covers an area of about 550 dunams (125 acres) and on the land that includes the communities of Ain al-Hilweh and Um Jamel. Between them the residents graze some 4,000 sheep, 200 camels, and 600 cows on land that is owned either by private Palestinians or the Latin Church, the report said.

Last week, IDF soldiers posted leaflets informing those in the area the army was enforcing an order against “unauthorized buildings.”

The paperwork was not posted on any of the buildings but rather left along roads nearby. The order was signed by IDF West Bank commander Major-General Roni Numa on November 1, but only distributed last Thursday, Haaretz said.

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It forbids anyone from being in the area for the purpose of building or bringing property into the area, and instructs that property be cleared within eight days.

The same order has been used in the past to remove illegal West Bank outposts set up by Israeli settlers, the report said.

Two weeks ago soldiers arrived in the area and demanded to see the identification papers of the local residents, locals said. The soldiers also took photos using a drone.

Such actions often precede evacuations and building demolitions carried out by the IDF and the civil administration, although the residents noted that they did not see any officials from the civil administration accompanying the soldiers.

In a statement to Haaretz on Saturday night, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said the order refers only to construction and not to entry into in the area.

“On November 9, 2017, a restriction order was issued as part of enforcement activities against illegal construction in the area. The new order is directed at the illegal construction and not against being in the area,” COGAT said. “In recent years, a number of families repeatedly began illegal construction activities in the area. Regarding some of the construction there is a review by authorities following appeals by the residents of the buildings. Regarding those buildings, no enforcement action will be taken until the review is completed.”

Attorney Towfik Jabarin from the northern Arab Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm, who is representing the residents, sent a letter of objection to the IDF on Saturday, via the IDF Military Advocate General. In it he complained about the way the leaflets were posted and that they were distributed eight days after they were signed off.

“On the face of it this is a lack of good faith, which is behind an intention to deprive the Palestinian residents of the right to a hearing or to file an objection against the order or declaration,” Jibrin wrote. “This is a mass expulsion order for the Palestinian population that is against international law.”

A Palestinian shepherd in the Jordan valley, November 20, 2009. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The report said the shepherds have been in the area for decades. They are not connected to water and electricity infrastructure and are not permitted to add buildings to accommodate population increases. Israel also doesn’t allow the Palestinian Authority to register the residents as living on the land and they must register themselves as residents of other communities in the area.

Other evacuation orders, demolition orders, and property confiscations have been issued in the past but not in such a general way directed against all of the residents, and not based on the unauthorized building order, Haaretz reported.

In 2008 permission was given for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to build huts in the area for the shepherds using Japanese funding. Jibrin cited in his letter that the although the civil administration initially granted permission for the huts, it later denied it had done so.

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