Israel Nature and Parks Authority says hundreds of Palestinian hunters routinely kill wildlife as part of a cultural activity, while local authorities struggle to fight brutal practices, often accompanied with dead animals being showcased on social media

Ilana Kuriel | Published: 02.18.22

Israel’s nature organizations have warned that many rare animal species are facing the threat of extinction due to being hunted by Palestinians in the West Bank as part of a cruel, “culture” activity.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority warned about the dangers of hunting the animals in the area but said they are struggling to fight phenomenon.

קורבנות הציד
Hunting gear
(Photo: Nature and Parks Authority)

The West Bank offers vast land, rich middle eastern herbarium, ibex and deer, porcupines and partridges, falcons, foxes and hyenas – a hunter’s paradise. In the last year, a record of 130 deer were hunted, but the numbers are probably much higher, considering many hunts go unaccounted.

The Palestinians, regardless of the law, continue their passed-down hunting tradition, even with species facing extinction.Israel is home to three different species of deer, considered protected animals by law and prohibited to hunt. They are facing extinction due to illegal hunting, a surplus in wolf and jackal predators, and shrinking grazing territories as a result of growing agriculture and urbanization.

The hunting practice in the area has come under spotlight only recently thanks social media, with many Palestinians uploading to social networks images of the dead animals they had hunted. This is done either for purposes of trade, meat, or simply as pastime recreation. The Israeli Civil Administration and Nature and Parks Authority have attempted to confront the hunters, yet have seen little success.

So who protects the wildlife? Only six inspectors of the Nature and Parks Authority are placed in the West Bank. To support them, a designated unit has been established to fight illegal hunting.

חיות שאנשי רשות הטבע והגנים הצליחו להציל
Successful animal rescue
(Photo: Nature and Parks Authority)

The Palestinians see hunting as part of their culture. In their eyes, they aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary, and only continuing their tradition, and extinction of ecological balance aren’t part of their conscious.

“In many areas there’s almost no wildlife left,” said Erez Bruhi, enforcement officer of the Nature and Parks Authority who acts under the Israeli Civil Administration. “The hunters act fearlessly, they get very close to the Israeli settlement fences, and not far from the Jordanian border either.”

Before we speak of illegal hunting in Judea and Samaria, we need to talk about illegal hunting in general,” said Asaf Levi, judicial advisor of the Organization for Nature Protection. “In Israel there is the law of protection of wildlife and the law of national parks; in Palestinian-ruled territory there is Jordanian legislature… In Area A and Area B – we don’t have jurisdiction. Like other areas of the West Bank, legislature is lagging and not up to date like the Israeli law. Wildlife wanders freely, without paying attention to geopolitical differences. A deer can crossover from Area A to Area C, where our authority is limited, without knowing.”

Bruhi adds that there are areas in which a whole Palestinian village will go out to hunt. “We know for example that there is competition between the villages regarding who can hunt more porcupines. They send each other pictures and videos to show proof of who’s better. Deer hunting is the hardest. They go out wearing camouflage.”

רובה ציד ותחמושת שנמצאו בשטחי יהודה ושומרון
Hunting gun and ammunition found in the West Bank
(Photo: Nature and Parks Authority)

In an incident about six months ago, in which the law was enforced, a Palestinian was sentenced to 20 months in prison after being convicted in military court for hunting illegally. “We understand there is security constraints,” said Bruhi, “but we do what we can to protect the animals. No one wants them to disappear under their watch… especially not due to hunting.

“We have a branch that is in charge of instruction and teaching in Arabic. We need to educate the next generation. Punishment and enforcement alone won’t help. We have already found 19 live deer in different houses. They keep them for fun. They use them as puts, until they start to get wild. They’re very dangerous animals with sharp horns… in the end they make kebabs out of them.”

חיות שאנשי רשות הטבע והגנים הצליחו להציל
A deer rescued from a Palestinian family
(Photo: Nature and Parks Authority)

The Palestinians believe the hyenas have magical powers, and if one looks at you it may curse you. These beliefs are deeply embedded in their culture. Meanwhile, hyenas are facing extinction in Israel.This issue is embedded into the context of legal complexity. The controversial nature of this territory makes it difficult to enforce and bring justice upon the crimes taking place. No one wants to deal with a burden in this grey area, hence it often times ends up getting brushed under the rug.

Elisha Yered is a resident in Ramat Megron and a member of “The Fight for Each Acre” Forum, which deals with settlement issues, as well as destruction and robbery of antiques, and illegal hunting. “It’s something we don’t talk about enough… the extent of it, the cruelty. It’s not just placing a trap in which an animal gets caught into. We’re talking about gun shots, poison, hunting dogs that rip the animal to shreds, spear hunting… You hunted a hyena? Take a picture with it, post it on TikTok, bring it back to the village”.