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Israeli army orders Palestinian shepherding community off Jordan Valley lands

A Bedouin shepherd leads his herd of cattle in the Judean desert overlooking the Jordan Valley, on January 8, 2014
Ahmad Gharabli (AFP/File)

The Israel Defense Force (IDF) has ordered some 300 Palestinian shepherds and their flocks off of the privately-owned Jordan Valley lands they have been inhabiting ahead of the expected demolition of their living structures, the Haaretz daily reported Sunday.

It is reportedly the first time the military has used its "order regarding unauthorized buildings" -- meant to enable the evacuation of illegal Israeli settlement outposts -- against Palestinians in the West Bank.

The order covers an area of approximately 125 acres where some 300 Palestinian shepherds have been grazing flocks of some 4,000 sheep, 200 camels, and 600 cows on land owned privately by Palestinian landowners and the Catholic Church.

According to Haaretz, the order -- which was signed on was not handed to Palestinian residents of the affected area or affixed to any of the unauthorized structures, but was posted along nearby roads last Thursday.

It demands that the area be cleared within eight days and prohibits anyone from bringing property into the area or building there.

Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said in a statement to Haaretz that the order does not prohibit entry to the area, only construction there.

“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,” the statement 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,” it added.

An attorney representing the residents,Towfik Jabarin, has sent a letter of objection to the IDF's Military Advocate General protesting the way the order was posted and complaining that it was distributed eight days after being issued on November 1.

Jabarin has accused the IDF of attempting to "deprive the Palestinian residents of the right to a hearing or to file an objection against the order," and has condemned the evacuation as "a mass expulsion order for the Palestinian population that is against international law."

Haaretz said that the shepherding community has resided in the area for decades, but have not been permitted to connect to water and electricity infrastructure and are prohibited from registering as residents there. They must instead register as residents of nearby communities.

The report also noted that this is a rare case in which an IDF evacuation, demolition, and property confiscation order is being applied in a sweeping fashion against all residents of an area as opposed to against specific structures.

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