Israeli settlers are establishing farms to push Palestinians off their land

On the morning of Nov. 10, Israeli settlers erected sheep pens on Palestinian agricultural land next to the Masafer Yatta hamlet of Khallet a-Daba’ in the West Bank. By the evening, the Israeli army dismantled the illegal outpost, and in response, the settlers rioted against the Khallet a-Daba’ community. They threw stones. They shattered car windshields. They uprooted olive trees. They set a hut ablaze. They fired guns. 

This violence isn’t an isolated incident. Rather, nearly every week settlers from nearby agricultural outposts are terrorizing the Palestinians as they take over their land. 

Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem highlighted the attacks originating from settler farms in a new report released last week. In it, B’Tselem stated 50 outposts have been built in the West Bank over the last decade — with about 40 of them used for sheep, goat and cattle herding. 

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Seemingly unsatisfied with these land-grabs, settler ranchers are also actively assaulting Palestinians whose land they’ve stolen as Palestinian journalist and activist, Basil al-Adraa, described. 

“They organize very big attacks against us especially on Saturday and on the Jewish holidays. They use these holidays to collect tens and dozens of settlers. They come armed with slingshots, sticks and hammers. At least from May until today, seven of these organized attacks were committed against my community,” al-Adraa said during a joint Breaking the Silence and Na’amod webinar on settler violence

According to B’Tselem, from the beginning of 2020 to the end of September 2021 451 settler attacks have occurred against Palestinians and their property, with more than half directed at Palestinian farmers. 

This figure did not include the Jordan Valley in the northern West Bank, an area experiencing settler violence daily and something farmer Fawzi Daraghmeh is all too familiar with. 

“Settlers attack my goats, hitting them in the stomach, in the head and in the legs,” Daraghmeh said. “They’re always trying to provoke my family and me and if any of us say anything, the settlers will just call the army and tell them we attacked them.”

Since 2019, Daraghmeh has lost about 250 acres of farmland to the Um Zuqa settler farm. The amount of grazing land stolen is harder to quantify, he said, but estimated losing hundreds of acres to settlers. 

We’re talking about a system, which has a lot of knowledge and experience. It’s not like someone woke up in the morning and decided they wanted to be a cowboy.

Dror Etkes

Calculations done by Israeli land policy organization, Kerem Navot, as part of B’Tselem’s report, found settler farms in the Jordan Valley, Masafer Yatta and other parts of the West Bank have taken over nearly 7,000 acres in the last five years. However, this number does not include the entirety of the West Bank, which Kerem Navot founder, Dror Etkes, said the organization is currently measuring.

From Etkes’ conclusions, the phenomenon of settler farms is intentionally entwined with state policy. 

“The most important thing [for Israel] right now is to get Palestinians out of the larger areas in Area C. And in order to do that, you need to contract settlers to get these Palestinians out, and that’s exactly what these farms are doing,” Etkes said. 

As emphasized in B’Tselem’s report, most agricultural outposts are built with state support in the form of infrastructure, water and farming subsidies.  

“Someone tells the military to guard the settlements. Someone designated the land to begin with and decided where the outpost is going to be. So, we’re talking about a system, which has a lot of knowledge and experience. It’s not like someone woke up in the morning and decided they wanted to be a cowboy,” Etkes said. 

Settlers as a tool of the state

And while settlers are scoring subsidies, Palestinian farmers are losing money. 

Ali Awad, a Palestinian activist from the hamlet of Tuba in Masafer Yatta, comes from a family of shepherds whose primary source of income has been eradicated by encroaching settler farms. 

Instead of having their sheep graze on the hillside, Ali’s family now purchases bales of hay to feed their animals. “We lost our whole traditional lifestyle,” Ali said. Even the manufactured livestock feed isn’t immune to settler attacks. In June, settlers burned a year’s supply of hay bales Ali’s family bought. 

“Settler violence is only part of Israeli colonist goals. These people are used as tools — justified by racist laws — for committing ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians.”

Ali Awad

Settler expansion has crippled Masafer Yatta’s economy. Two-thirds of the families in Tuba have left in the last decade. From Ali’s vantage point, the purpose of these agricultural outposts is to “evict Palestinians.”

“Settler violence is only part of Israeli colonist goals,” Ali said. “These people are used as tools — justified by racist laws — for committing ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians.”

With the high price of animal feed and without room to graze, Ali’s family is becoming hopeless. 

“Every day we think about leaving,” Jaber Awad, Ali’s uncle, said. “Walking 100 meters [330 feet] out of the home means a settler is standing in front of you and your flock.” 

Like the Awad family, Daraghmeh in the Jordan Valley feels trapped. “Because of these outposts, I feel like I am in jail with my sheep and goats. We can’t move. We can’t go anywhere.”

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