Israel tries to sell back donkeys it ‘took from Palestinians’
AFP, Aug 3 2016
Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP
AL MALEH – “Forty donkeys for sale,” reads a notice in Palestinian newspapers. Nothing out of the ordinary about that, except for the fact that the advertiser is the IOF. Palestinians say the army is trying to sell back the very animals it seized from them in the occupied West Bank’s Jordan Valley. IOF say they round up wandering livestock in the interests of public safety, especially to reduce road accidents. Palestinians, however, see a policy of confiscations and demolitions aimed at pushing them out of the valley running along the border with Jordan. The valley has valuable water resources and farmland and is seen by Israel as vital to its strategic defence. The donkeys will be auctioned off if unclaimed by their owners, the Arabic-language notice announced, but reclaiming their own property is costly. Arif Daraghmeh, head of a council of 26 hamlets in the valley’s Al Maleh district, said they have to pay fines of up to 2,000 shekels for each donkey. COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry unit that co-ordinates Israel’s activities in the West Bank and Gaza, says:
Animals roaming unsupervised are a public menace and that since the army has been rounding donkeys up road accidents have fallen by 90%. Fines are levied to cover the costs of catching and looking after the donkeys.
The public notice that the donkeys will go up for sale if unclaimed is unusual, said Mr Daraghmeh. It is only the third notice of its kind in the past two years, and before that there were none. But, he added, confiscations are nothing new. 64-old Sliman Besharat said his goats, housed under a shelter of sacking, have in the past been quarantined by Israel. Like Mr Daraghmeh, he sees a strategic aim behind the seizures. He said:
By confiscating animals and agricultural equipment and demolishing houses, animal shelters and other structures, the Israelis are putting pressure on the Palestinians to leave the Jordan Valley. Whoever controls the valley controls the border and access to water and farmland.
That is the case with Yusef, who was watching over his 80 cows and their calves while keeping one eye on the road used by IOF vehicles. Behind him stood a sign on a concrete block warning in Hebrew, Arabic and English:
Firing zone, entry forbidden.
The IOF has turned 18% of the West Bank into training grounds, according to UN data. Nevertheless, 6,200 Palestinians still live in such areas. In the Tubas area where Yusef lives, more than 800 people remain with their cattle on land that Israel has designated as firing ranges. Brandishing a stick to move his emaciated animals, he said:
The army can expel us and seize our livestock at any time. The soldiers load them on lorries and tell us that we’re in a closed military zone. Or they come through in their tanks and nothing survives, not a concealed bird’s egg or a baby gazelle lying on the ground. I have lost dozens of animals to confiscation or death through lack of access to water.
The UN says:
Though just a short distance from the banks of the River Jordan, the vast majority of Palestinian residents are not connected to water and must buy it at great expense. About 90% of the valley is in the West Bank zone known as “Area C,” which is under full Israeli control. It is virtually prohibited for use by Palestinians and reserved for the Israeli army or placed under the jurisdiction of the settlements”, where 9,500 Israelis live and farm. Water consumption in some places is a mere 20 litres a day, one fifth of WHO recommendations.
On the rocky hillside that rises behind Yusef’s cows, he said a pipeline carries to a settlement water that the animals were once free to drink. Yusef said:
Before we drank the water at its source. Now the settlers bathe in it.