The Israeli occupation authorities announced in 2020 the imposition and control over the “Ain al-Auja” nature reserve near Jericho, which is the largest Palestinian nature reserve in the West Bank.
According to the Israeli Haaretz, the head of the “civil administration” of the Israeli army, Fares Atila, signed in April 2020 a military order to seize and declare the “Ain al-Auja nature reserve”, near Jericho – the largest natural reserve that the occupation authorities seize and confiscate, which extends to over an area of 22,000 acres.
The declaration issued by the occupation authorities restricts the permitted use of the land, and also places this Palestinian nature reserve in the circle of the plans for Judaization and illegal settlement.
Over the decades, the Israeli occupation authorities have declared hundreds of thousands of dunams in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem under the name of nature reserves, and began imposing bans and restrictions on Palestinian and foreign visitors for settlement purposes.
Haaretz also pointed out that after the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Israeli authorities refrained from declaring new nature reserves in the West Bank. However, in January 2020, when Naftali Bennett held the position of Israeli Minister of Security, he agreed to declare seven more reserves, the largest of which was the Al-Auja Nature reserve, but this decision required the approval of the head of the Civil Administration, who approved it last April.
Commenting on this, the Israeli anti-settlement Peace Now movement emphasized that the Israeli government’s declaration of lands in the West Bank as “nature reserves” is not intended to preserve nature, but rather to seize Palestinian lands, considering that the Israeli government has begun to flounder and deepen the occupation in all possible ways.
The Palestinian News and Information Agency (WAFA) revealed that the lands targeted by the occupation, with an area of about 22,000 dunums, are located south of Jericho.
According to the Peace Now movement, the occupation has so far declared 48 nature reserves in the West Bank, with a total area of no less than 383,600 dunums, representing about 12% of Area C, and about 7% of the entire West Bank.
Later in 2021, the Israeli occupation announced further control over three nature reserves in the Palestinian Jordan Valley, meaning it will seize more than 11,000 dunums of grazing land.
This was repeated during the past years, when settlers established two settlement outposts on the lands of the Muzwaqih and Al-Suwaida areas in the northern Jordan Valley, the same area that the people of the Jordan Valley have been denied access to since 1979, after the occupation authorities closed 35,000 dunams of it, under the name of “natural reserves.”
The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories “B’Tselem” indicates that “the occupation seizes about 20% of the Jordan Valley’s lands under the name of “nature reserves.”
Observers fear that the occupation’s announcement of the three new reserves will be a repetition of the same scenario of appropriating lands and granting them to settlers. What increases this fear is the huge areas that were seized from the Jordan Valley at the beginning of this year under the same classification.
According to a report issued by the Settlement and Wall Resistance Commission, the occupation authorities use “nature reserves” as a pretext to seize more Palestinian lands, and not for the purpose of protecting nature as they claim, and this was proven by converting thousands of dunams under this name for settlement use.
In this context, the Director General of Documentation of Occupation Violations in the Settlement and Wall Resistance Commission, Qassem Awad, explains that the occupation uses this term for the benefit of colonial goals.
The data available to the commission show that the occupation has built 31 settlements on lands classified as nature reserves, since the Ottoman and British eras.
Moreover, Awwad emphasized that the occupation uses the classification of “natural reserves” to circumvent the word “confiscation” or the appropriation of land.
He added that the occupation was using military pretexts and orders extensively in areas such as the Jordan Valley to seize large areas, but recently resorted to intensifying the use of the so-called “nature reserves” as a means that it considers more effective to deceive the international community, and to justify its arbitrary measures against the residents in the Jordan Valley, whose residents are forcibly displaced from these areas and prevented from exploiting their lands or grazing in them based on the “Nature Reserves Law.”
Awwad considered that the use of the pretext of “natural reserves” has become more widely used by the occupation than by military pretexts, as various international laws require the return of the land that was seized by military orders to its previous era when the cause of the military order is removed, noting that there are areas that were seized for military purposes. Later, it was transformed into “reserves”, such as the Baptism Area near the Dead Sea.
Between 1969-1997, the occupation announced the establishment of 47 nature reserves on an area of 334 square kilometers, of which 42 are protected in Area Cover an area of 290 square kilometers, according to the data of the Settlement and Wall Resistance Commission.
What increases the fears that more nature reserves will be transferred to settlers is what the occupation authorities announced during the past year to “revoke the status of a nature reserve for eight reserves that had been classified since the time of the British Mandate for the purposes of expanding eight settlements on the lands of these reserves, namely: Hananit, “Tel Menashe” built on the lands of Jenin Governorate, “Karneeh Shomron”, “Tzofim”, “Azzun Forest”, “Ma’ale Shomron” and “Alfi Menashe” built on the lands of Qalqilya Governorate, and “Halamish” built on Ramallah and Al-Bireh Governorate.
The data of the Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories “B’Tselem” show that “Since 1967, a few months after the start of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Israel announced all the lands that were registered as state lands during the Jordanian era (constituting 53% of the total area of the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea). as “closed spaces”.
In addition to this classification, the occupation army declared, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, 45.7% of the Ghor lands as “firing zones” and prevented Palestinians from entering or staying there. Also, about 20% of the lands of the Jordan Valley were declared “nature reserves” and “national parks,” and other lands were allocated to settlements that were established in the Jordan Valley shortly after the occupation.
The Applied Research Institute (ARIJ) also confirms that “Israel, since its occupation of the Palestinian territories, has devised dozens of illegal laws to seize the Palestinian lands and present itself as a “democratic state” before the international community, but what has happened and is still happening on the ground completely contradicts what it is trying to Israel has shown it to the world, as it has manipulated the laws in proportion to its settlement ambitions in the region, and with the aim of building settlements, outposts, military bases, and other settlement projects.
To make matters appear realistic, the occupation seized Palestinian lands, through several decisions and names, including “nature reserves” through Military Order No. 363 of 1969, according to (ARIJ).
The institute added: “During the years of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, the occupation authorities classified 48 sites as nature reserves in the occupied West Bank that must be protected and preserved, but at the same time they prevented the Palestinians from cultivating these lands, cultivating them or exploiting them for any purpose, and allowed themselves and settlers Later, a number of these “nature reserves” were converted into Israeli settlements, Israeli military bases, outposts and other settlement facilities.
The Director-General of Documenting Occupation Violations at the Settlement and Wall Resistance Commission, Qassem Awad, said: The occupation announced its seizure of 11,200 dunams, for the benefit of three Israeli nature reserves in the Palestinian Jordan Valley.
Awwad warned that most of the seizure operations fall under the category of “natural reserves”, the occupation allocating its lands later on for settlement construction; as the occupation authorities canceled the designation of seven nature reserves after turning them into settlements.
Awwad added that the occupation always uses this name for illegal goals. During the year 1997, it was announced the establishment of the “Har Homa” settlement on the lands of Jabal Abu Ghneim in Jerusalem, which was classified as a nature reserve since the British Mandate, and the “Sinsanana” settlement, which is built on the lands south of Hebron, is built on a nature reserve declared since the British Mandate as well.
The data available to the commission show that the occupation built 31 settlements on lands classified as nature reserves, since the Ottoman and British eras.
According to B’Tselem, At the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, the occupation army declared 45.7% of the lands of the Jordan Valley as “firing zones,” preventing Palestinians from entering or staying in them. Also, about 20% of the lands of the Jordan Valley were declared “nature reserves” and “national parks,” and allotted lands Others are for the settlements that were established in the Jordan Valley shortly after Israel occupied Palestinian lands.
The Director General of Environmental Resources at the Environmental Quality Authority, Issa Adwan, said: “We have 20 reserves out of 51 (50 in the West Bank, and one in Gaza). Any surveys on it, with the aim of developing it.”
Adwan, therefore, pointed out that the Israeli occupation controls important agricultural areas for citizens, which are a food basket for them, and later turns them into nature reserves, and prevents investment and agriculture, as happened in the settlements of “Wadi Qana”, which is one of the richest areas in the West Bank with trees, biodiversity, and agricultural plants.
Adwan added: “What happened about two years ago, when the occupation declared a large part of some areas in Tubas and the Jordan Valley as nature reserves, aimed at colonial expansion and preventing citizens from accessing these areas.
“We are members of the International Convention on Biological Diversity, and we document all occupation practices in national reports, and we are currently in the process of completing the preparation of the sixth national report on biodiversity, and we have included all Israeli violations in it.”
In the same extent, Director of Domestic Tourism at the Ministry of Tourism, Ahmed Nairat, said that nature reserves are a tourist destination, and it is one of the most important destinations that the ministry is working to develop through internal tourist itineraries, and support tourism patterns to increase the number of expatriate and local tourists, and we have completed a book under the title Palestine, a mosaic panel. Colorful, in cooperation with the site of the reserves, and talks about the tourist paths that go into the nature reserves.
He pointed out that nature reserves constitute important biodiversity, and preserving them is very important and includes an ethical and patriotic aspect, which is part of our struggle over land and identity with the occupier.
The Palestinians consider Israel’s decision to establish seven nature reserves in the West Bank as an attempt to seize Arab lands, under an “environmental” cover. On January 15, 2020, the Israeli Ministry of Defense said that the seven reserves are located in areas classified as “C” in the West Bank, which constitute 60% of its area, and are under full Israeli control. The minister stated that the decision also includes the expansion of 12 other nature reserves, existing in the West Bank.
“We are greatly expanding the land of ‘Israel’, by developing a Jewish settlement in Area C, through actions, not empty words,” Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett told Israeli newspapers.