NABLUS: An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the West Bank early this year has killed thousands of livestock, pushing Palestinian farmers already living under occupation to the brink of bankruptcy.
Mohammed Basheer said he had to incinerate hundreds of his dead lambs after the outbreak devastated livestock across the West Bank, leaving him with more than just a stinging financial loss.
For Basheer, the ordeal underlines the unique challenges facing farmers in the occupied Palestinian territory, who complain that they are underserved by the Palestinian Authority and face constant threats from Jewish settlers.
“I got no help from the PA, not even a telephone call,” Basheer, who owns thousands of livestock near the city of Nablus, said, voicing frustration over what he described as inaction from the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry.
Palestinian farmers blamed the PA for halting a vaccinations program that had proven essential in protecting livestock against an endemic disease.
And with animals absent from large stretches of grazing land, farmers fear land grabs from Jewish settlers who have repeatedly set up illegal outposts on West Bank land they claim is unused.
The PA “should protect us because we protect the land,” Basheer said. “The farms protect the land ... If you remove the farmers, Israel takes the land.”
A new strain of foot-and-mouth disease, which causes potentially lethal fevers and blisters in young animals, was detected in livestock last November in Jordan.
It soon spread across the West Bank, a territory occupied by Israel since 1967, and heavily reliant on agriculture.
But the PA’s Agriculture Ministry has not carried out a regular vaccination drive since 2019. A ministry official, who requested anonymity, said a normal year sees 60 to 70 percent of goats and sheep in the West Bank vaccinated against the disease.
That figure dropped to 20 percent in 2020 and 2021, the official said.
The ministry blamed the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the disease vaccines were harder to source as vaccine-makers worldwide pivoted operations to meet demand for COVID-19 jabs.
The ministry also blamed Israel, claiming it obstructed the PA from procuring sufficient supply.
The Israeli Defense Ministry body responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories said the allegation was false.
“There has been no formal request from the Palestinian Authority for the import of such vaccines,” the body said in a statement.
“Nonetheless, considering the health requirement that has arisen, the State of Israel has transferred vaccine doses that were in its possession to the Palestinian Authority.”
The Palestinian ministry has officially confirmed around 2,000 animal deaths as a result of the FMD strain this year.
But farmers and the agriculture ministry official said livestock deaths were likely far higher than the acknowledged toll.
Basheer said FMD losses had cost him $150,000 and accused Israel of hoarding vaccines.