NAPLUS: In recent months, Palestinian herders have lost more than 2,000 head of cattle in the occupied West Bank. The reason: the appearance of a new strain of foot-and-mouth disease at a time when local authorities were putting the brakes on animal vaccination.
From his farm in a rural area just outside Nablus (north), Mohammed Bachir puts his losses at 150,000 dollars (139,000 euros). From February to March, in the midst of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, this breeder lost more than 300 animals, forcing his teams to burn hundreds of lambs in a small corner of his land.
After the appearance of a new strain of foot-and-mouth disease, initially discovered in November in Jordan, Palestinian herders in the West Bank saw their livestock decimated and blamed the Palestinian Authority for interrupting vaccination campaigns on their animals.
“I received no help from the Palestinian Authority, not even a phone call,” laments Mohammed Bashir, owner of thousands of animals. “They should protect us, protect the land”, also at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, 2,000 animals have died this year but breeders interviewed consider this figure incomplete and point to the low rate of vaccination of cattle.
According to a Palestinian ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity, between 60 and 70 percent of goats and sheep are vaccinated against foot-and-mouth disease in the West Bank each year. But local authorities have not carried out a vaccination campaign since 2019, which has caused this rate to drop to 20%, notes this official.
The ministry points the finger at the pandemic, the authorities having devoted their efforts to human vaccination campaigns against Covid-19, which has killed thousands in the occupied West Bank, while vaccine manufacturers have redirected their production in the face of the outbreak of infections around the world.
The Palestinian ministry also accuses Israel of having obstructed the import of vaccines against foot-and-mouth disease, a highly contagious animal disease that is not transmitted to humans.
False, retorts the Cogat, body of the Israeli Ministry of Defense which supervises the civil activities in the Palestinian Territories.
“There has been no official request from the Palestinian Authority for the import of such vaccines,” Cogat told AFP. “And given the health requirements that have arisen, the State of Israel has transferred doses of vaccine in its possession to the Palestinian Authority.”
For Abbas Milhem, executive director of the Palestinian Farmers’ Union, the foot-and-mouth outbreak, which ended in April thanks among other things to measures to isolate the affected cattle, was another plague for local farmers considered the “guardians of the land” by the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel, which has occupied the West Bank since 1967.
“The real fight against occupation and annexation is on the land, but farmers cannot fight it alone,” he said, as more than 475,000 Israeli settlers now reside in the West Bank, where 2, 9 million Palestinians. Settlements are considered illegal under international law.
In “Area C” of the occupied West Bank, under full military and civilian control of Israel and where Jewish settlements are concentrated, agricultural land that has not been cultivated for three years can be reclaimed by the Israeli state, explain critics.
“Israel can designate them as state property and appropriate them for its own use, even if the land is registered as private Palestinian land,” said Eyal Hareuveni, a researcher at the Israeli anti-settlement organization B’Tselem.
Hence the incomprehension of some farmers in the face of the freezing of the vaccination campaign, because in addition to the killing of livestock and financial losses, it is the duty of the Palestinian Authority to defend them.
On his farm near Nablus, Mohammed Bachir has no doubt about it: “the farmers protect the land (…) if you take the farmers away, Israel will take it”.
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