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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
14 June 2011

The centuries-old pastoralist tradition has proved to be one of the most resilient of rural livelihoods throughout the history of the Middle East. Sustainable through its mobility, herding livestock historically makes use of patchy rangeland in arid areas that are otherwise difficult to exploit. With the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 Bedouin pastoralists from five tribes in the Negev Desert were forcibly displaced into the West Bank as refugees, obliged to share the West Bank’s natural resources with its resident herding population.

Over the next two decades the semi-nomadic Bedouin refugees established new seasonal migration patterns and the influx of resilient desert stock established competitive markets and a healthy livestock trade for local herders and refugees alike.

Despite the introduction of illegal settlements into the West Bank, the 1970s are frequently reported by herders as the golden era

The distinction between Bedouin and non-Bedouin communities is mainly an anthropological one, but an important difference is to be highlighted: Bedouin communities have a tribally based socio-cultural system and a semi-nomadic way of life, whereas non-Bedouin herding communities are traditionally linked to Palestinian villages. Following the 1948 conflict, Bedouin communities were obliged to abandon their traditional lands in the Negev to splinter into smaller social units and disperse as refugees, diluting tribal leadership structures and sociocultural traditions.

For the sake of clarity, this fact sheet will refer to both kinds of communities as “herding communities” since they are similarly affected by the occupation policies and are equally livestock-dependant.

for pastoralist trade and forced displacement from the outlying areas of the West Bank had not yet become a realistic threat for livestock dependent communities. During these years movement restrictions were still minimal, friction between local herders and Bedouin herders was largely resolved, natural resources were rich and trade was booming. Whilst isolated incidents of settler harassment began to increasingly affect the herding population throughout the 1980s, it was not until the 1990s that the traditional pastoralist livelihood began to significantly suffer under the impact of the occupation and its associated regime.

After the signing of the Oslo Agreements in 1993, the majority of the isolated herding communities in the West Bank found their livelihood and the semi-nomadic lifestyle, which ensured its sustainability, being challenged by a new set of rules. Their deteriorating situation further accelerated in 2000 with the Israeli response to the second Intifada culminating in the strict application of the closure regime, its associated permit system and the building of the West Bank Barrier.

Today, whilst livestock dependency in Areas A and B of the West Bank remains economically viable, the same livelihood under the regime of the Occupying Power in Area C is reaching a point of collapse. All Area C residents including the pastoralist communities are subject to the tight control of land exerted by the Israeli authorities, which restricts the movement of Area C residents and is implemented through diverse measures. These include closed military areas, checkpoints, the West Bank Barrier and its buffer zone, nature reserves, facilitation of settlement expansion, restrictions on construction and ‘administrative demolition’ of all structures without building permits.

For the semi-nomadic herder whose livelihood depends on his ability to move freely along seasonal migration routes in order to access rangeland and natural water resources, these restrictions have had a crippling effect. In search of accessible areas of natural resource in Area C herding communities have had to retreat into more and more isolated locations whilst resorting to alternative feeding strategies for their livestock by increasing their dependence on purchased fodder and tanked water.

Erratic market prices for both water and fodder have coupled with restricted access to livestock markets, gravely affecting the herding livelihood and locking livestock-dependent communities in Area C into a cycle of growing debt and poverty. Unable to maintain their herds, the majority has been obliged to reduce stocks and seek alternative employment but alternative coping strategies are still limited. The ensuing poverty leaves the Area C herding population increasingly dependent on humanitarian assistance.

In area C, a building permit from the Israeli Civil Administration is required for all types of construction including rudimentary dwellings, pit-latrines and even fences. According to OCHA, Palestinian construction is effectively prohibited in 70% of area C, while in the remaining 30% there is a range of restrictions and administrative requisites that greatly reduce the possibility of obtaining a permit.

Given the difficulties in obtaining construction permits, many Palestinians living in area C take the risk to build without a permit, therefore facing the threat of administrative demolition by the Israeli Authorities. In 2010, by November, a total of 1090 individuals have been affected by demolitions in area C and 355 have been displaced. There are currently several thousand pending demolition orders throughout the West Bank, the implementation of which could vastly increase the humanitarian caseload.

International Law: The destruction of real or personal property by an occupying power is prohibited by the 1949 Geneva Convention IV relative to Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (GCIV), except and only where rendered ‘absolutely necessary by military operations’ (Art. 53). Any building permit regime would need to satisfy this requirement, whilst further being consistent with the occupying power’s obligation to administer the territory in the interests of the occupied population. The current permit regime governing construction in the occupied West Bank, especially in Area C, falls short of meeting these standards.

Poverty, however, is not the only trigger to forced displacement for the livestock dependent residents of Area C. Whilst communities are increasingly unable to meet the regular costs of daily life including transport costs to access adequate health care, education services and nutritious foodstuffs, many communities are also exposed to ongoing settler harassment and also to multiple counts of ‘administrative home demolition’ by the Israeli Authorities. Living in severely sub standard conditions under the threat of violence and forced displacement can have grave humanitarian implications.

There are over 220 settlements and outposts in the West Bank inhabited by half a million Israelis, whose municipal areas cover almost 10% of the West Bank. Many settlements were built on prime agricultural land confiscated from Palestinians, or over key water resources such as the Western Aquifer basin, springs and wells. Over the last decades, this phenomenon has dramatically impacted herding communities who have in many cases lost access to their main sources of water and grazing land as well as seen their traditional herding routes being cut, progressively forcing them to rely on bought fodder and tanked water to maintain their livestock.

Moreover, herding communities located near settlements in remote areas have been particularly affected by settler violence which started in the 80s. In 2010, OCHA reported over 300 incidents leading to property damages or casualties in the West Bank, which have been characterized by the absence of accountability of the perpetrators: most victims simply refuse to lodge a complaint due to fear of reprisals or mistrust in the Israeli system, whereas the vast majority of the files opened against Israeli settlers are regularly closed by the police without prosecution.

International Law: The 1949 Geneva Convention prohibits the occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies (Art. 49, GCIV). There is no distinction in international law between settlements and outposts, and as such, all settlements in the West Bank are illegal.

Started in 2002, the barrier’s total length will be 707 km upon completion according to OCHA data. The total area of the West Bank located between the Barrier and the Green Line, which will be de facto annexed to Israel, is 9.4%. This area comprises rich rangeland and water resources of importance for many herding communities, which have become inaccessible with the construction of the barrier.

The construction of the Barrier has had further impact on herding communities’ economic situation, by blocking their access to work opportunities in Israel on which they heavily depended as a secondary source of income to compliment decreasing livestock-related incomes.

International Law: The international Court of Justice in its 2004 advisory opinion concluded that the construction of the Barrier inside the Palestinian territory was contrary to international law and called upon Israel to terminate its breaches and make reparation for the damage caused.

Whilst assistance to the livestock dependent population of Area C is becoming more coordinated throughout the international community, the root causes of their vulnerability remain unchanged and in some cases continue to intensify. Sustained advocacy efforts to expose the effect of the Area C regime on livestock dependency, ongoing protection interventions and tailored livelihood support programmes are crucial in order to ensure that the herding communities of Area C are supported on all levels as they attempt to revive their centuries-old livelihood under the ongoing pressures of the Israeli occupation.

  • Displacement: The Israeli measures are making life in Area C unsustainable for the herding community. As a whole, the lifestyle and livelihood of the herding community cannot be sustained in Area C as a result of the occupation, leaving the herding community no choice but to leave Area C, which may constitute forcible transfer – a violation of the IV Geneva Convention. These actions are also contrary to Israel’s general obligation to administer the occupied territory in the interests of the occupied population.


Since 2007 the international community has significantly increased its focus on the humanitarian concerns of the herding population in Area C. These efforts, led by OCHA, UNRWA and partner organizations, include:
  • Mapping of communities, monitoring of needs and rights violations
  • Advocacy efforts focusing on prevention of forced displacement
  • Free legal advice offered to communities at risk of displacement
  • Post home demolition response, including cash or in kind assistance and psycho social support
  • Distributions of food, subsidised fodder and water tanking
  • Mobile health clinics and mental health teams accessing those communities unable to afford transport

These initiatives have been are coordinated in forums such as the Area C Task Force and the Displacement Working Group. One example of a coordinated response is the UNRWA/WFP and UNICEF Food Security and Nutrition Survey of Herding Communities In Area C, which led to the development of joint UNRWA/WFP food distributions to all herding communities in Area C, covering 60% of nutritional needs (

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