BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Three Israeli settlers and two Israeli soldiers reportedly attacked three Palestinian shepherds who were grazing their herds Friday morning, near an illegal Israeli settler outpost in the northern Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, Israeli media reported on Saturday.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz said that the Palestinian shepherds were attacked near a newly created illegal settler outpost near the border of the Umm Zuka Nature Reserve, and also within eyesight of the Israeli military’s Netzah Yehuda base, where a special ultra-Orthodox Jewish unit is stationed.
Haaretz quoted the shepherds as saying that two Israeli settlers approached them and asked them to leave the area before a third settler came out of the illegal outpost who was escorted by two Israeli soldiers. According to the shepherds, the soldiers and settlers cuffed them, and proceeded to inspect their bags and seize their mobile phone. They were also beaten by the Israelis, the shepherds added.
An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an they were not familiar with the incident.
The women-led Israeli rights group Machsom Watch released a report
earlier this month detailing a new settler outpost near the reserve, at least 40 dunams (10 acres) of which they said has been built on privately owned Palestinian land.
Haaretz said Saturday's incident came just after the Palestinian shepherds alerted locals that "Israelis were approaching them in an intimidating manner," and were joined by other shepherds over the course of the day to ensure they weren't attacked again.
According to the report, on Jan. 4, a large number of Israelis began erecting farming structures at the outpost, after multiple attempts were made by Israelis over the course of 2016 to seize lands in the area and acquire building permits.
As of the beginning of February, Haaretz reported that the outpost was equipped with a large water tank, a tractor, two large tents, all-terrain vehicles, two caravans, sheds, a generator, and a horse.
Haaretz described the outpost's inhabitants as "seven pre-army teenage boys, at least some of them armed, who say they grew up in settlements and dropped out of yeshiva high schools," and that the teens "described their activity as volunteer work that fulfills settlement ideals."
Machsom Watch said that the so-called owners of the illegal outposts's facilities were two residents of a nearby illegal settlement. According to Haaretz, Israel's Civil Administration is aware of the new illegal outposts.
Haaretz said that Palestinian residents of the area have told them that the boys travel in groups and are always armed.
"They threaten the Palestinian shepherds and bar them from taking their flocks to pasture. On at least one occasion, they also threatened a man who came out to till his land, forcibly stopping him. The intimidation includes shooting in the air, scaring away the sheep, and approaching the tents where the shepherds reside in a menacing manner," the report said.
Earlier this month
, the Israeli government passed the outpost “Regularization law,” which paves the way for the retroactive legalization of settler outposts on occupied Palestinian territory considered illegal in Israeli law. However, the 196 official Israeli settlements scattered across Palestinian land are not considered illegal in Israeli law, despite being routinely condemned for being a clear violation of international law.
The law states that any settlements built in the occupied West Bank “in good faith” -- without knowledge that the land upon which it was built was privately owned by Palestinians -- could be officially recognized by Israel pending minimal proof of governmental support in its establishment and some form of compensation to the Palestinian landowners.
The law was adopted just a few days after Israeli authorities forcibly evacuated the illegal Amona outpost
that was slated for demolition following an Israeli Supreme Court ruling after local Palestinians petitioned the courts that the land was private Palestinian land.
An initial version of the Regularization bill included a clause to retroactively legalize Amona, but was later dropped from the proposal. Critics have said that the bill was pushed through parliament in order to prevent another Israeli outpost on Palestinian land from meeting the same fate as Amona.
Meanwhile, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi stated at the time of the bill’s passing that the law gave “clear license to the settlers to embark on a land grab in the occupied West Bank with impunity.”
“Such a law signals the final annexation of the West Bank,” she said. “This also proves beyond doubt that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his extremist, racist coalition government are deliberately breaking the law and destroying the very foundations of the two-state solution and the chances for peace and stability.”
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there were a total of 221 reported settler attacks against Palestinians and their properties in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem in 2015, and 107 in 2016.
The majority of settler attacks committed against Palestinians are met with impunity, with Israelis rarely facing consequences for such attacks.