Palestinian Village To Become An Israeli ‘Firing Zone’
Israel plans to turn a Palestinian village into a military firing zone and force an entire community comprised of 8 villages out of their homes in Masafer Yatta, occupied West Bank. This Palestinian land is currently the place of 1,000 Palestinians that make their living through shepherding and agriculture.
They are being expelled because Israeli soldiers need a place to train for a possible war in Lebanon. “The vital importance of this firing zone to the Israel Defence Forces stems from the unique topographical character of the area, which allows for training methods specific to both small and large frameworks, from a squad to a battalion,” the Israeli military said in court filings.
Yet archival documents from the early years of Israeli rule in the West Bank may demonstrate that the motivation for declaring local firing zones is political.
As 972 Mag explains, since the 70s, Israel has designated 18% of the occupied West Bank as firing zones for military training, inside which the army completely prohibits civilian presence.
Israeli authorities have threatened nearly 40 herding communities (6,200 people) with demolitions of their homes and destruction of their agricultural livelihood stating that they lack building permits. Palestinians can almost never obtain them.
The Firing Zone 918 in Masafer Yatta was designated in the 80s by then-Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon. It is about 3,000 hectares with 12 Palestinian villages: Jinbeh, Al-Mirkez, Al-Halaweh, Halat a-Dab’a, Al-Fakheit, A-Tabban, Al-Majaz, A-Sfai, Megheir Al-Abeid, Mufagara, A-Tuba, and Sarura.
Since then, the Israeli military and rights groups have swapped court petitions and counter-petitions over the legality of expelling the Palestinians.
Nevertheless, the state has maintained the expelling of Palestinian residents arguing that they were not permanent residents when the firing zone was declared, and have no rights to the land.
The state has even offered a “compromise” that would allow the villagers to work inside the firing zone only on weekends, Jewish holidays, and for two non-consecutive months per year. This has been continuously rejected by the residents. This would limit their ability to subsist from farming and shepherding.
“This case is not about a firing zone; it is about taking control of land because, unlike other areas, most of this land is privately owned,” said Shlomo Lecker who, along with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, is representing 200 of the Palestinian families under threat of displacement.
Palestinians see how building permits are denied, how the army demolishes any new structures including houses, water wells, and solar panels, how they struggle to connect to water and electricity networks, and how they are daily harassed by settlers from the nearby Jewish settlements.
There have not been direct expulsions since 1999, but since 2006, the human rights organization B’Tselem has documented the demolition of over 64 residential structures (home to 346 people) and 19 non-residential structures. As of April 2020, there are 455 active demolition orders, constituting almost all the structures in the area.
There is also an increase in the attacks from settlers. For example, on June 1 last year, settlers burned an entire year’s worth of hay intended to feed sheep belonging to a Palestinian family in Tuba. On September 29, dozens of masked settlers slit the throats of three sheep and sent a three-year-old child to the hospital with a fractured skull. The Israeli army was present but did not do anything to stop it.
According to international law, Israel’s actions are illegal. To occupy territory for a purpose that serves only the occupier and not the occupied population and the forcible transfer of the occupied population are illegal. Additionally, as 972 Mag reveals, international law stipulates that such military use of occupied land can only be for the direct management or security needs of the occupied territory itself, making Israel’s declared purpose regarding Lebanon also illegal.
Declaring a military firing zone is a tactic frequently used to steal Palestinian land. If Masafer Yatta is transformed into one, it would be the largest single displacement of Palestinians in decades and would set the example for other cases in the future.