AL-KHALIL (HEBRON): The “Firing Zone” land grab scheme

27 October 2012
AL-KHALIL (HEBRON): The “Firing Zone” land grab scheme

How can Israel "legally" confiscate land in occupied Palestine? Get the army to declare the area a "Firing Zone" needed for military training.

This is what happened in the South Hebron Hills in 1999 when Israel ordered the evacuation of twelve Palestinian villages for the creation of Firing Zone 918, claiming the inhabitants were not permanent residents, then forcibly evacuated seven hundred inhabitants. The Israeli military destroyed homes and cisterns and confiscated property. The villagers, dispossessed of their lands and livelihoods, were left homeless.

In 2000, in response to petitions filed by the residents, the Israeli High Court of Justice halted the evacuation and granted an interim injunction, allowing the villagers to return home temporarily. Many had nothing to return to. Those that did have lived under the ongoing threat of evacuation from the caves they reinhabited, and subject to constant abuse by nearby settlers, but have continued to live and work on the land.

 photo courtesy Alternative Information Center

After years of stagnation, the case was reopened in 2012 with the State's insistence on the evacuation of eight villages in the zone – a humanitarian disaster for over 1,500 souls whose villages face destruction. For security reasons, the Israeli Defense Forces can legally remove or limit the mobility of persons within a firing zone, except for permanent residents. It follows that the IDF is attempting to characterize the residents as non-permanent.

Hidden motives behind the creation of the firing zone are settlement expansion and annexation of territory. The four settlements already in the South Hebron Hills near the closed area were established in 1981 and 1983 on territory that was declared state land. Israelis added four outpost settlements near the closed area between 1996 and 2001. A B'Tselem's survey found that over the past three years, eighty-eight percent of Palestinian villagers have been victims of settler violence, or witnessed such violence toward a close relative. No village has escaped settler abuse.

Under International Law (Fourth Geneva Convention) the occupying power is prohibited to force the transfer of protected people and has the obligation to protect their lives and property. The Israeli army has violated the human rights of the residents of Firing Zone 918 by destroying farmland, restricting freedom of movement and refusing to permit building and development.

On 8 August 2012 the Israeli High Court of Justice dismissed the villagers' petition. The interim orders meant to allow village residents to continue to live on and cultivate their land will remain in effect until 1 November 2012, when the petitioners will be allowed to submit new petitions.

CPT, along with local and international partners (including EAPPI and ACF), is working to protect the 1,500 people living in the firing zone. We are visiting the villages to hear people's stories and assess needs. We will attend the court case on 1 November. We are working on information packets and a video to get worldwide attention placed on the firing zone. With international pressure we hope to stop Israel's attempted land grab, and save these families' homes.