Just days after the most recent attack, West Bank villagers successfully plowed fields to which Israeli settlers and soldiers had denied them access for as long as nine years. On 21 and 22 November, the residents of At-Tuwani, as they do each planting season, organ- ized themselves and their relatives from the nearby town of Yatta to plow and plant the Khoruba valley with wheat and barley. Palestinians mobilize large numbers of people to undertake such plantings in order to deter Israeli settler attacks. Settlers from the nearby illegal outpost of Havat Ma'on hope to expand into these areas, and have already taken a small plot of land at the top of Khoruba valley.
After planting in the Khoruba valley, the Palestinians moved over to the next valley, Mshaha. Settlers from the outpost attempted to block their tractors. But the presence of so many Palestinians together persuaded the Israeli soldiers and Israeli police who were present not to interfere with the plowing. Plowing and planting fields-an important part of local economic life-is also a way of ensuring for another year that ever expanding Israeli settlements will not take over the agricultural land.
Palestinians were forced to abandon these valleys and surrounding villages in 2000 after years of harassment and violent attacks by Havat Ma'on outpost settlers. Israeli authorities later removed the outpost, but settlers relocated to another nearby hill and ensured that working in the valley would remain dangerous for Palestinians.
Less than a week earlier, on 15 November, approximately fifteen masked settlers from Havat Ma'on outpost attacked three Palestinian shepherds grazing their flocks in the Mshaha valley. The settlers ran down from a ridge above the shepherds, hurling rocks. The shepherds got their flocks away before the rocks injured them.
Meanwhile, the settlers stole two of the shepherds' donkeys. One they killed with a knife wound in the chest area. They slashed the other across its throat, but it survived.
Settlers also hit two CPTers who were accompanying the shepherds with large rocks. One sustained minor injuries. The Israeli police were called four times before responding to the incident. They did not initially respond to reports of settlers attacking Palestinian shepherds and internationals, but only responded when they learned of the attack on the donkeys.
The assault occurred on land the shepherds graze daily and which the settlers hope to take for the expansion of Havat Ma'on. Replacing the donkey will cost around 1000 NIS, or US$265. The Israeli occupation has impoverished the shepherds of the area, and they are currently dependent on outside food aid.
[Note: According to the Geneva Conventions, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and numerous United Nations resolutions, all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal. Most settlement outposts are considered illegal under Israeli law.]