Opinion | Jewish Shepherds Wreak Havoc

With tacit support of the Israeli government, settler attacks on Palestinians have increased.

Imagine you live in a rural area out West and your neighbors keep trying to drive you off your land.

One day, dozens of masked men smash your windows and solar panels, puncture water tanks, vandalize your home and throw stones at you and your kids. You call for help. When an ambulance arrives, the marauders stone it. Soldiers from a nearby base show up but stand on the sidelines, just watching; a few even join the fray.

Another time, masked men attack your herds, slit the throats of your animals and threaten you and your son. Once, masked men break into your town’s local playground and terrorize the children. For years, your kids have had to walk to and from school with a military escort to protect them from hostile neighbors who, in the past, have attacked them with chains and bats. 

Were such daily disturbances happening to orchard farmers or sheepherders in California, Colorado or Wyoming, you would surely have heard about them. Our media would be all over the story. Pundits would opine on the epidemic of violence against innocent families. Ordinary Americans would bemoan the breakdown of the social contract. Elected officials would send thoughts and prayers, visit victims, hold press conferences and demand that the perpetrators be found and punished.

Instead, the incidents I described are taking place in the West Bank in territory conquered by Israel 55 years ago, controlled by military law and the Israel Defense Forces ever since. And because the targets of that violence and intimidation are Palestinian farmers and shepherds who have no political power, and the troublemakers are militant Jewish settlers who for years have gotten a pass from a government cowed into submission by the growing audacity of the settlement enterprise, they are largely ignored by Israeli media, politicians and Jews of conscience in Israel and the rest of the world.

You may know about the “price tag campaigns” in which “hilltop youth” and other aggressive settlers have exacted violent retribution for individual Palestinian terror attacks. This isn’t about that. This is a bald, unprovoked, criminal strategy to terrorize Palestinians, scare them off their land and take control of it for permanent Jewish expansion and hegemony. To that end, Jewish shepherds have been seizing Palestinians’ pastures, destroying their orchards and blocking access to land they cultivate to support their families.

In May, Yesh Din (Hebrew for “there is law”), a human rights group that monitors events in the West Bank, released the report “Plundered Pastures,” which documents that such violence is carried out by men from some of the 35 unauthorized “shepherding outposts” that have been founded by Israeli settlers between 2017 and 2021.       Settler violence is not new, but the actions of the shepherding settlers have been chillingly flagrant and carried out with the tacit or overt approval of the Israeli government. Since this egregious behavior has been, to say the least, underreported, and since I found Yesh Din’s findings freshly devastating, I’ll quote its summation at some length:

“Israel supports the settler shepherding farms by providing them exclusive allocations of pastureland, financial grants and assistance with infrastructure. This support is administered directly by government offices and by various bodies who receive public funds, among other sources.

“…By building structures, grazing flocks in vast areas taking over water resources and oftentimes perpetrating violence against the Palestinian residents, the settlers are able to take control of large swaths of land.

“Settlers in shepherding outposts carry weapons and employ attack dogs, some ride on ATVs or on horseback and use drones. They assault Palestinians, intimidate them, and even invade their private homes. They kill and injure livestock, destroy property, damage crops and take over water sources.

“… Israeli law enforcement agencies make no effective effort to end the continuous violation of the law by settlers in shepherding outposts. Nor do Israeli soldiers prevent Israelis’ violence against Palestinians, and at times they even aid such violence. The Civil Administration ignores illegal settler construction and the police and State Attorney’s office do not prosecute Israelis who break the law and harm Palestinians and their property. [This] precludes any possibility of deterring offenders and lends support for further offenses…”

Let’s be clear. These Jewish offenders are not responding to “Palestinian terror”; they are systematically frightening, harassing and injuring innocent residents who are simply trying to make a living from their own land. What are you and I going to do about it? Are we too busy policing antisemitism to police our own people’s reprehensible behavior?  Are we going to keep silent about this growing menace and the fact that the Israeli government has been facilitating it, and the IDF has been turning a blind eye to the damage wrought by these marauding settlers? 

Because we love Israel, are we ready to forgive anything Israelis do just because they are Jews, and their victims aren’t?

Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s 12th book,  SHANDA: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy, will be published in September.


Top image: On 13 April 2018, settlers attacked Nizam Ma’tan, 43, who lives in the village of Burqa, Ramallah District, while he was grazing his herd with his 13-year-old son. (Credit: B’Tselem via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0)

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