On march 27 at 12:08 pm on the road that leads to the Palestinian village of Al Fakheit, Masafer Yatta area, an Israeli army jeep chased a Palestinian car that was transporting some sheep. At 12:12 pm both the cars stopped in front of the school of the village. The young Palestinian man ran from his car into the yard of the school, the two Army soldiers ran after him. The chase ended under the eyes of Palestinian men, women and children of the school. Finally, after repeated violences on the Palestinian man, he was arrested and brought away on the army jeep.
JINBA, Occupied West Bank, Dec 26 2013 (IPS) -
Jinba is in the crosshair of ‘Firing Zone 918’ – and ‘Firing Zone 918’ is a microcosm of the Israeli occupation. Together with seven other communities, Jinba is slated for demolition to make way for an Israeli training ground. Forced eviction hangs over a thousand Palestinians. Mahmoud Raba’i is sowing wheat in his field. Winter is here, but it hasn’t rained a single drop in the rugged, unforgiving, South Hebron Hills. “God willing, rain will come and fill the wells,” the Palestinian farmer murmurs. Jinba is home to 300 Palestinian tent- and cave-dwellers who struggle for the right to carry on living on their land like their forefathers. “We and our children live here; our sheep graze here. They want us to carry our land on our back and leave.” It’s a furrow these subsistence wheat farmers and sheepherders have been ploughing generation after generation for over 150 years – steadily, relentlessly. “This is our land,” Raba’i seethes. “We and our children live here; our sheep graze here. They want us to carry our land on our back and leave.” Jabarin enters his cave. Mattresses are piled up against dark walls near tools. Toothbrushes, a comb, are strewn on a makeshift shelf. A stove lights his weathered face. “My grandfather, my father, and I were born here.” The villagers in Jinba are among the West Bank’s poorest Palestinians. Living off the land isn’t easy when the land is under occupation. In all 60.2 percent of the West Bank is designated ‘Area C’ – that is, under full Israeli military and administrative control. The largest community in the South Hebron Hills, the village of Jinba, is in ‘Area C‘. The village has no access road, no running water and no electricity, no building permits, only demolition orders. “We were handed demolition orders against the concrete poured on the floors of our tents and clinic. For everything we do, there’s a demolition order,” Jabarin tells IPS. Jinba abuts Israel. Here, the infamous ‘Green Line’ which marked the border between Israel and the West Bank prior to the 1967 War is a white furrow crisscrossing the desert. Strange boundary stones mark an area encompassing 12 Palestinian communities. On them, commanding inscriptions in English, Arabic and Hebrew: “Danger. Firing Area. Entrance Forbidden.” “Let’s get rid of the occupation,” reads the Arabic and Hebrew graffiti sprayed on the opposite side of a marker. “Why a firing zone here? There’s enough open space inside Israel. They want to expel us and move us into heavily populated Palestinian areas. This firing zone’s just an excuse for Israel to pursue its land grab,” asserts Jabarin. In contrast, ten illegal settlement outposts located within the firing zone are under no such threat. Head of Jinba and guardian of his community, Jabarin incessantly patrols the village by foot to protect it from Palestinian smugglers and workers who cross into Israel illegally and, above all, from incursions by the Israeli military stationed in the area. He documents the routine raids for the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, and is one of the petitioners to the Supreme Court in Israel in a 14-year legal battle against the firing zone. In September, the court interceded in favour of mediation between the Israeli authorities and the Palestinians. But the pressure hasn’t stopped. Jabarin’s daughter Nawal, 12, is scared. Only a fortnight ago, Jabarin was arrested on suspicion of arson at a military base. “I wouldn’t have been released after eight days if I wasn’t innocent,” Jabarin scoffs. The legal battle against forced eviction from ‘Firing Zone 918’ is part of a three-decade war of attrition waged by the Israeli authorities and local settlers against 4,000 impoverished Palestinian dwellers in the South Hebron Hills. Land expropriation, harassment and acts of vandalism perpetrated by settlers against them are common practice, and the lack of law enforcement is glaring. Earlier this month, a military squad was seen inspecting 25 uprooted olive trees in ATuwani area. In a separate incident, two days earlier, in Umm elAra’is, Israeli troops cracked down on Palestinians who complained of a settler trespassing on their land. A week earlier on the same spot, soldiers stood idly by while settlers attacked Palestinians.The Palestinian Authority is powerless in the face of these acts as it doesn’t control the area. In solidarity with the peasants, peace activists have entered the fray. Founded in 2009 by two Israeli physicists-activists, ‘Comet’ is a joint Israeli-Palestinian initiative. Its purpose – to provide basic solar and wind energy access to the off-grid, marginalised Palestinian communities of the area. “Our NGO is political in essence,” Comet’s co-founder Elad Orian tells IPS. “We support their struggle to stay on their land.” ‘Comet’ builds and installs hybrid wind and solar mini-grids. These stand-alone systems provide about two kilowatt-hours per family per day to 2,000 Palestinians. Rural electrification facilitates socio-economic empowerment, say the Gawawis encampment dwellers. “Sometimes there’s no sun, no wind, but in general, thank God, the electricity works fine,” Abu ElAbed tells IPS. “It helps us economically. Women prepare more butter effortlessly with the electric butter churn. And we have a refrigerator, a washing machine, a TV.” Sixteen of the 24 installations operated by Comet are under threat of demolition. “You need a building permit. It makes sense. The problem is you have a bureaucratic mechanism whose purpose is to prevent people from obtaining permits,” says Orian. “And the people subjected to this bureaucracy aren’t Israeli citizens.” Fortunately, Comet enjoys German government support, both financial and political, and can afford to fight legal battles on behalf of the Palestinian communities. Abu ElAbed recalls that the army came to Gawawis two years ago with a demolition order, “but we haven’t heard from them since.” In Jinba, the local clinic, mosque and elementary school remain off the grid. Fields remain under Israeli rule. But the Palestinian flag atop the elementary school leaves no doubt as to whom the land belongs.
On 18 November 2013 at 11:00, Mufid Abu Qbeita—the driver for the students who live in the South Hebron Hills area that the Israeli military has designated as “Firing Zone 918”—was driving children back to their homes from Al Fakheit school. Israeli Security Forces and representatives of the Israeli Civil Administration stopped him near Al-Sfai, one of the villages in the Firing Zone, while he had a child in the car. Soldiers took his ID and detained him for thirty minutes; afterwards, they told him to follow them to Gush Etzion Police Station. Two soldiers accompanied Abu Qbeita in the car. He had to leave the child in Al-Sfai.
Abu Qbeita informed the soldiers that the jeep belonged to the Palestinian Ministry of Education and was donated by Japan, but they still forced him to drive to the settlement of Gush Etzion. After several hours, they released him, but the jeep remains at the police station. When Abu Qbeita asked why the soldiers had confiscated the jeep, they answered, “Because you were driving in the firing zone of the South Hebron Hills which is not allowed.”
CPT, EAPPI and Operation Dove take turns accompanying Abu Qbeita and the SUV from the city of Yatta into the Firing Zone during the week, in order to prevent incidents like the above occurring, but until recently, once in the zone, he had not faced problems. On 27 October, eight Israeli soldiers detained him, verbally abused him, and then beat him on his abdomen, face, and back. Afterwards, they forced him drive to over spikes used to stop vehicles at army checkpoints to puncture the SUV’s tires.
After NGO files complaint against Israeli military training inside West Bank villages, IDF’s Military Advocate General says legality of training is anchored in principles of ‘belligerent occupation.’
By Gili Cohen – Nov. 3, 2013
There is no legal barrier to Israel Defense Forces training inside Palestinian villages in the West Bank, according to a document prepared by the IDF’s Military Advocate General.
Maj. Harel Weinberg, the MAG’s deputy prosecutor for operational affairs, wrote that the legality of training inside Palestinian villages is anchored in the principles of “belligerent occupation,” by which the military commander, who is the sovereign authority in the area, is obligated to maintain security and public order in the West Bank, and so must hold occasional training exercises in populated areas.
Still, Weinberg wrote that troops taking part in such training were required to “avoid putting the population at risk, damaging their property or causing unreasonable disturbance to their daily routine.” The document was written in response to a complaint filed by activists of the Yesh Din NGO following a series of incidents involving IDF training in villages.
In one incident last May, troops held an exercise in the middle of the village of Amatin. In another case three months ago, during Ramadan, the army held a training exercise at Tel Rumeida in Hebron while a family there was eating breakfast in their yard. According to a report by family members, about 15 soldiers broke into their yard without permission, scattered throughout both floors of the home, and practiced breaking into a home using special equipment — all while family members were inside.
The IDF Spokesman said: “After looking into the matter, the Military Advocate General found that there was no legal obstacle to holding training in inhabited areas as part of maintaining security in the area. The orders issued for the drills that take place in populated urban areas include a statute requiring coordination with the ones doing the drill. It will also be made clear that as part of the training exercises, the soldiers must avoid putting the population at risk, damaging their property or causing unreasonable disturbance to their daily routine. Anywhere that there are deviations from these rules, the Military Advocate General will order that clarification be given and will take the appropriate measures.”
The High Court asks for mediation between Israel and Palestinian communities under eviction threat. “We’ll don’t leave our lands” – Palestinians clearly stated.
At-Tuwani, November 4, 2013 – During the trial the Israeli High Court of Justice’s magistrates have chosen a mediation between the State and more than one thousand Palestinians who risk to be expelled from their homes and properties. By this decision the magistrates are trying to end the legal battle begun 15 years ago. As mediator they have proposed the judge Yitzhak Zamir. Palestinians and the State of Israel accepted the Court’s decision. Palestinians accepted the mediation even knowing it will result only in a lawful outcome, although far from justice.
The coordinator of the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee commented: “We have the right to claim justice but we never completely trust the Israeli justice, because it’s part of the occupation strategy. We do believe in our rights, we believe in our destiny: to stay on this land. This is an ongoing struggle. When I say “ongoing struggle” I mean that people of the area have to face every strategy carried out by the occupation to expel Palestinians from their own lands. Those strategies include the impossibility to access facilities and the soldiers and settlers violence. To live here, in these conditions and resist to the occupation is not easy at all. The price we have to pay is really high. But we are ready to handle it”.
When we asked Salem Musa about what the people think about the issue, he stated: “Our message for the whole world is that we want to remain on our land. We don’t have any other place to go. We want to live here. We want to live with water and electricity supplies and paved roads. We don’t want the army prevent us to move or graze our flocks. We no longer want to suffer because of the occupation. We want to stay in our land without soldiers”.
Salem lives in Al Majaz, one of the eight villages facing the eviction risk. This story begun in the 70s when the area hosting 13 villages has been declared by Israel as “Firing Zone 918”, namely a military training area with live ammunition. In 1999 each village of the area was evicted. After many appeals, submitted to the Israeli High Court of Justice, the eviction has been suspended and the inhabitants have come back to their own homes. However, in the summer 2012 the Israeli Minister of Defense demanded the High Court to reopen the case, putting again the Palestinian in an unstable condition of living.
Farmers and shepherds from those villages are facing serious obstructions while trying to improve their life conditions. The lack of paved roads, toilets, electricity and the impossibility to build any kind of structure in an area considered as a military one, turns life in an everyday-challenge. Furthermore Palestinians suffer ongoing threats and violence, implemented by the army. For instance, the night between July 3 and 4, thirty soldiers raided the village of Jinba (one of those under eviction risk) together with some settlers who accused Palestinians of stealing their sheep. The soldiers searched different Palestinian houses, breaking their doors and throwing stun grenades (one of those was thrown inside a house and another one hit a man who was sleeping outside). Soldiers beat up four Palestinians while three others were detained all the night long. This is only one example of many intimidation episodes affecting the area.
Despite that, Salem and the other Palestinians who live in the area have no doubt about the place they want to build their future in. Nor that the proposal of mediation is insufficient. How would it be possible to mediate between the shepherds and farmers who live on that soil since generations and the claim of an occupying force that demand the same land for military trainings, (despite of the Geneva and The Hague conventions)? Rather, Palestinians see in the mediation as one of the many strategies implemented by the occupation in order to deny justice. Indeed, the issue doesn’t concern only the quest of the eviction but also and above all human rights and international law violations.
Indeed, these are the final words of the Committee coordinator: “Beyond the political analysis, the question is simple: what’s happening here is an injustice and a violation of every principle concerning the human being, the humanity. However we believe that the day we’ll see the end of injustice is coming. We have to persist with our commitment on nonviolent resistance. It means that we’ll face all those occupation policies through nonviolent actions and demonstrations, enjoying solidarity and support of Israelis and Internationals. Until we gain justice. Until the end of the occupation”.
Notwithstanding the Israeli Defense Minister announced to accept the mediation proposal by Israeli High Court in order to find a solution with the Palestinians about the use by the Israeli army of the Firing Zone 918, the pressure of the army on the local inhabitants does not decrease.
According to eyewitnesses, on Sunday, October 20, more than 300 soldiers arrived at the Israeli military base closed to the villages of Jinba and Mirkez. Some of them invaded fields between the two Palestinian villages and camped there. Soldiers left on October 27, for all the week they did square-bashing in the area, also invading the Palestinian villages. During the drills, soldiers broke into the village of Jinba, entering in private properties, preventing some Palestinian shepherds to graze their sheep on Palestinian fields, intimidating and scaring the inhabitants, as the Palestinian eyewitness declared.
On the nights of Thursday 24 and Friday 25, the soldiers trained around the Palestinian village of Halaweh. On the night of Wednesday 23, the soldiers entered in the houses of the Palestinian village of Al Mirkez, ransacking homes.
Finally, according Palestinian witnesses, on Sunday, October 27, eight Israeli soldiers stopped and detained the Palestinian who drives the school transport jeep around Masafer Yatta for the Palestinian Ministry of Education. Every day he accompanies the elementary schoolchildren on their way from several remote villages to their school in Al Fakheit village. The soldiers forced the driver to got out from the car, then they questioned him. Moreover the soldiers insulted him shouting and beat on his abdomen, face and back. Later, forced the Palestinian driver to get in the car and drive on the nails used during army checkpoints in order to drill the tires.
This policy of continuous pressure on the inhabitants of Firing Zone 918, clearly shows that, despite the Ministry of Defence has accepted the mediation with the Palestinians proposed by High Court of Justice, the Israeli government is strongly determined to continue his threat policy against the Massafer Yatta inhabitants in order to prevent a real mediation process.
On October 21 (following a time extension asked by the Israeli Govern), the state attorney notified to the High Court of Justice that the Minister of Defense has agreed to enter mediation on the legal dispute on the fate of the Palestinian residents of the eight communities in Firing Zone 918, in the south Hebron hills. The State approved also the Court’s suggestion to appoint former Justice Prof. Zamir as the mediator.
The time expected for mediation will be four months, that can be extended.
On 2 September 2013 the High Court of Justice held a hearing in the new petitions filed by ACRI and Adv. Shlomo Lecker against the eviction of approximately 1,300 residents of ‘Firing Zone 918’ in Masafer Yatta.
At the hearing, the petitioners’ argued against the State position that was submitted in July 2012. The lawyers said that the argument, in terms of who could be considered as a resident of the firing zone area, should be based on the year 1999 when the Israeli Military forcibly evicted over 700 residents and destroyed or confiscated the homes and other property and not the 1980s as the State argue. In addition, the lawyers maintained that there is no real military necessity to declare the area as a firing zone for military training. The lawyers put forward alternative areas in the Negev which are larger than Firing Zone 918 that the Israeli forces could use for training.
The Attorney General argued that Firing Zone 918 is essential due to its topography that meets the training needs of the military. The State argued that the existence of the people in Firing Zone 918 and their structures would put the soldiers at risk of injury and of not being able to perform their training. In addition, the State argued that the people living there are not permanents residents. The State claimed that the number of the people living inside the Firing Zone now does not reflect the number of the people who were living in the area before the declaration as a closed military zone.
At the close of the hearing the Court suggested that the parties enter into a mediation process in order to reach a mutually agreeable settlement and nominated former High Court Justice Professor Yitzhak Zamir to be the mediator.
The petitioner’s lawyers agreed to the Court’s proposal, while the State was permitted until 7 October 2013 to submit their position to the mediation process.
The mediation process, which is set to begin soon, would be the second time that the case reaches a mediator. In 2002, the Israeli High Court sent the case to mediation which focused on determining whether the residents of the communities in Firing Zone 918 are permanent residents of the area, a status which would affect their rights under Israeli military law. The mediation ended in 2005 without any results.