HCJ 1974/24 Darajmeh et al. v Commander of the Army Forces in the West Bank et al

Date of submission: March 7, 2024

As part of Israel’s policy designed to annex and take over Areas C while pushing Palestinians out, many cases of settler violence are documented alongside measures taken by the Israeli army and authorities to force the Palestinian communities from their homes. The Jordan Valley Regional Council recently began using a new and illegal practice: Confiscating sheep, goats and cattle herds and demanding steep fees for their release. This is a new and heavy-handed type of economic violence exercised by settlers.

On the night of December 25, 2023, settlers took over a herd of cattle belonging to the Darajmeh family and violently led the herd to the area of the settlement Hemdat. The settlers summoned the Jordan Valley Regional Council’s inspector. The inspector then confiscated 19 cows and confined them in a cattle pen that was prepared earlier, on the grounds that they are “stray animals” according to local bylaws. A week later, the Council issued a demand for ILS 49,000 to release the livestock. Lacking an alternative and fearing they would lose their source of income, the herders paid the Council this exorbitant sum with the aid of Israeli activists and the herd was released.

On January 6, 2024, Israeli settler Uri Cohen called a member of the Darajmeh family, who was out herding cattle, and told him he may herd the cattle in the area “by [the settlement] Brosh”. The following day, Cohen called the herders again and urged them to move to an area farther north. After moving to this area, the herders were met by a council inspector, who then confiscated 48 cows – this time on the grounds that they were “grazing in an area forbidden [for grazing]” according to the council’s bylaws. The Council issued a demand for ILS 143,910 for releasing the livestock confiscated during this operation.

On January 22, 2024, the regional council caught and confiscated 600 sheep belonging to the Adayes family without any early warning and in an area that for dozens of years has been the daily grazing route for the family’s herds. Council representatives did not provide an explanation why they confiscated the sheep, and issued payment demands for ILS 150,000 for “trapping and transporting animals”. In this case too the sum was raised and paid to the council for the herd’s return.

In late January and early February, the Darajmeh and Adayes families addressed the regional council, the army and the ministry of interior. They demanded that their confiscated livestock and money paid previously for releasing livestock be returned, arguing that these confiscations lacked authority and violated international law.

In response, the army’s Legal Advisor to the West Bank Area confirmed that Israeli local authorities lack the authority to enforce their bylaws upon Palestinians residents of the West Bank, and that the “The authority of the Council’s bylaws concerning grazing may not be enforced by the council upon herders who are not Israeli settlers.” Yet Council representatives rejected the army’s Legal Advisor’ position in the Council’s response dated several days later, claiming that the council’s bylaws have territorial application, meaning they apply to any person present in its area.

On March 7, 2024, the Darajmeh and Adayes families filed a petition to the High Court of Justice with the assistance of Yesh Din and activists in the Jordan Valley demanding that the Jordan Valley Regional Council return all their confiscated livestock, pay back the sums paid for confiscation and refrain from applying the council bylaw concerning grazing to the petitioners and their herds.

The petition argues that under international law and the Order regarding Security Provisions, the administrative authority of Israeli local authorities in the West Bank applies only to Israelis while only the army has authority over the Palestinians. Therefore the Regional Council lacks the authority to confiscate and demand payment for releasing livestock, a position with which the army’s representative agreed.

The petition also noted that this new practice is based on a policy tainted by extraneous considerations and discrimination, designed to lead to a situation where only the council’s residents – all of whom are Jewish Israelis – will enjoy the grazing land that is included in the council’s vast municipal boundaries. In contrast, Palestinian herders who have lived in the area for dozens of years – in some cases predating the council’s establishment – will be forced to lose their livelihood and traditional way of life as herders and leave the area.

The danger in the local authority’s presumption, which seeks to hold the authority over Palestinian herders’ grazing, has vast and broad implications. Such authority involves aspects clearly related to annexation, as it reflects both that the Military Commander is evading his responsibility in the occupied territory and how this authority is transferred into the hands of civilian government officials.

Petition status: In proceedings