Israeli Settlers Are Using the Ongoing Violence to Ethnically Cleanse Palestinians in Jordan Valley

The targets of the accelerated ethnic cleansing who were chosen since October 7 are some of the most vulnerable Palestinian communities in all of the West Bank.

President Joe Biden warned in his speech on October 10, regarding the Hamas attack on Israel, “Anyone thinking of taking advantage of this situation, I have one word: Don’t. Don’t.”

A group of settlers in the Jordan Valley are taking advantage of the war with Hamas to accelerate the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian shepherds and farmers communities.

While the number of families that were forcibly evacuated (16) is not big, their transfer has a dramatic meaning since they were the last families of Palestinian farmers and shepherds who survived until now in the area. Their transfer, and also the expected transfer of other families who are being subjected to similar violent pressure by the settlers, will leave a large area of the Jordan Valley without any Palestinian farmers and shepherds.

The targets of the accelerated ethnic cleansing who were chosen since October 7 are some of the most vulnerable Palestinian communities in all of the West Bank. The communities of Palestinian shepherds and farmers in the Jordan Valley already have been suffering from the severe impact of decades of illegal Israeli occupation, from the policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid by the State of Israel in the Jordan Valley, and from the systematic and widespread violations of their rights that are recognised in the core humanitarian law treaties. These illegal policies of the State of Israel caused high rates of poverty, food insecurity, inadequate water supply and unsafe drinking water, lack of electricity, fuel and medical and education services. They had no way to survive other than grazing their herds and farming their lands.

In the last several years, settlers established new “shepherd farms” through violence and with the help of the Israeli military and police, and managed to take control of many of the last grazing and agricultural areas that were available for the Palestinian communities.

The settlers by themselves or with the help of their accomplices from the “Hilltop Youth” violently prevented the Palestinian shepherds and farmers from grazing and cultivating their lands. This was done almost on a daily basis by harassing, attacking and threatening them, and also by harassing, attacking and threatening the Israeli human rights activists who accompany them.

Among the settlers’ methods through the years were throwing stones at the herds and at the Palestinians, driving vehicles or riding horses within the herds and cultivated fields, sending low-flying noisy drones to frighten and disperse the herds, setting attack dogs on the Palestinians and their herds, whipping the herds and the Palestinians with sticks or whips, beating and pushing them, burning or threatening to burn the pastures, threatening to stab the Palestinians and conducting uninvited threatening “visits” at the Palestinians’ residences. As a result of the violent dispersal of the herds, some sheep miscarry, stop giving milk, run and break their legs or get sick and some are even killed.

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The Israeli military and police act in the Jordan Valley in accordance with the settlers’ instructions, arresting or evicting the Palestinians from their cultivated and grazing lands and thus assisting in the settlers’ takeover. In many incidents the soldiers and policemen were present during the settlers’ violence against the Palestinians, and didn’t lift a finger to stop it. Also, in many incidents the soldiers and policemen arrest the Palestinian shepherds and farmers who dare to complain against the settlers. Many times, when Israeli soldiers and policemen detained the Palestinian shepherds, their herds were left alone and dispersed.

Since October 7, the settlers increased their chokehold on these Palestinian farmers’ and shepherds’ communities, and finally managed to force them to leave their families’ homes and lands. This was done through increasing physical violence and also by repeated “visits” of armed settlers in their residential compounds where the settlers ordered them to evacuate immediately and threatened that if they did not evacuate on their own, they would evict them forcibly.

Ethnic cleansing has not been recognised as an independent crime under international law, and there is no precise definition of this concept or the exact acts to be qualified as ethnic cleansing. A United Nations Commission of Experts, mandated to look into violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, defined ethnic cleansing in its interim report S/25274 as “… rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area.” In its final report S/1994/674, the same Commission described ethnic cleansing as “… a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.”

That is why the international community and the international criminal courts rely on the recognised crime of forced transfer of a population, that is defined as a war crime or a crime against humanity. For example, Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949) forbids the forced transfer of protected persons to other parts of the occupied territory or to the area of the occupying power itself, as well as the settling of residents of the occupying power inside the occupied territory. Articles 146-147 define the forced transfer of protected inhabitants as a serious violation of the convention. Also, Articles 7(2)(d) and 8(2)(b)( viii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998) define as a war crime or a crime against humanity the deportation or forcible transfer of population. It should be emphasised that the United States has long recognised “ethnic cleansing” as a war crime. For example, regarding Ethiopia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Myanmar.

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This is why the Israeli human rights organisations and movements – Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights, Combatants for Peace, Ir Amim, Jordan Valley Activists, Machsom Watch, Mothers Against Violence, Other Voice, Psychoactive, Torat Tzedek an Zochrot – which support and accompany the communities of Palestinian shepherds and farmers in the Jordan Valley, asked the US, Canada, the UK and the EU to demand from the Israeli government to stop the accelerated ethnic cleansing carried out these days by the settlers in the Jordan Valley, to allow the communities that have been deported since October 7 to return to their homes and lands after giving guarantees for their security, and urgently enforce their Magnitsky Acts and include the settlers in their list of sanctions.

It is clear to us that the Israeli government has no interest in acting on its own initiative since it wishes to complete the annexation of the area de facto and de jure. The same violent pressure is being used against other Palestinian shepherds and farmers communities in the Jordan Valley. If the settlers succeed in their plan there could be an almost complete ethnic cleansing of the Jordan Valley, with the exception of large Palestinian towns and cities such as Jericho and Bardala.

Eitay Mack is a human rights lawyer and activist based in Jerusalem.