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Israel orders demolition of 8 Palestinian villages, claims need for IDF training land

Residents of targeted villages will be moved to the West Bank town of Yatta and its environs; state claims that most of those evacuated have permanent homes in the area.

By Amira Hass    Haaretz   23 July  2012

Yatta - Nir Kafri - Archive

The West Bank town of Yatta. Photo by Nir Kafri

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has ordered the demolition of eight Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills because the territory is needed for Israel Defense Forces training exercises, the state told the High Court of Justice on Sunday.

The residents of the targeted villages will be moved to the town of Yatta and its environs; the state claims, based on information it obtained from local informers, that most of these people have permanent homes in that area.

The state will allow the residents to work their lands and graze their flocks there when the IDF is not training -- on weekends and Jewish holidays – and during two other periods of one month each during the year. Barak agreed to leave four villages that are in the northernmost part of the area, even though this would reduce the dimensions of training area and prevent the use of live fire.

The villages slated for demolition are the larger villages in the region: Majaz, Tabban, Sfai, Fakheit, Halaweh, Mirkez, Jinba, and Kharuba, which have a total of 1,500 residents. The villages to be spared are Tuba, Mufaqara, Sarura and Megheir al-Abeid, which have a total of 300 residents.

The IDF and the Civil Administration regard all of them as squatters in Firing Zone 918, even though the villages have existed since at least the 1830s.

Evacuation orders were issued against the 12 villages in 1999, but were frozen by an injunction issued by the High Court of Justice in response to two petitions that were united: One by attorney Shlomo Lecker and the second by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who together represented some 200 families. An effort to reach an agreement on the status of the residents in the area by a mediation process failed in 2005.

At that point, the Civil Administration started to issue demolition orders against cisterns and restrooms that several families had added, claiming that these additions violated the status quo as set by the court. This past April, after 12 years of various proceedings and delays, the High Court held a preliminary hearing on the petitions, with the state submitting its final position on Sunday.

Attorney Hila Gurani, a senior deputy state prosecutor, wrote in the response to the petitions that the IDF has been forced to limit its military exercises in the area because of the people living there and the illegal construction that has taken place there. For the same reason, no live-fire training is conducted there.

In addition, wrote Gurani, during the second intifada, operational activity came at the expense of training, but the Second Lebanon War exposed weak spots that substantially increase the need for training and firing zones. Gurani also noted that there was a risk that residents of the firing zone would collect intelligence on IDF methods, or take weapons or equipment that the forces might leave behind, and use them for terror purposes.

The village residents, ACRI and the B’Tselem human rights group present the issues differently. According to them, all 12 villages were natural outgrowths of cave-dwelling communities that are widely found in that area. In some of the villages, homes of unchiseled stone were built even before 1967.

The connection to Yatta is natural – and characteristic of many satellite communities that developed over the centuries in historic Palestine. For generations the cave-dwellers were farmers and shepherds, producing milk and cheese, and they have preserved their way of life to this day, while integrating into Yatta as a result of contemporary demands, such as the need to send their children to school.

The IDF had declared some 30,000 dunams (7,500 acres) in the area a closed military zone back in the 1970s. Under military law, only permanent residents are allowed to remain in a closed military zone.

Until 1997, the cave-dwellers continued to live in their communities undisturbed – which the petitioners say is clear evidence that they were regarded at the time as permanent residents. However, as happened in much of the West Bank that under the Oslo Accords was deemed Area C – under complete Israeli control – the Israeli authorities did not allow the residents to build more structures, including schools or clinics, to accommodate their natural growth. These communities were not included the master plans that were prepared for the building of the area settlements, and thus to this day these villages are not connected to the road system, the water system or to the electrical grid.

In August and November 1999, most of the area’s residents received eviction orders due to “illegal residence in a firing zone.” On November 16, 1999, the security forces forcibly evicted more than 700 residents, and the IDF demolished buildings and wells and confiscated property, leaving the residents with no homes and no livelihood.

As noted, the High Court, in response to the petitions, issued an interim injunction, allowing the villagers to temporarily return to their homes. However, because the army had destroyed many of the buildings, many residents had nothing to return to. Moreover, the security forces interpreted the interim injunction as narrowly as possible, allowing reentry only to the named petitioners and denying access to their relatives.

As a result, the examination conducted by the Civil Administration that is quoted in the state’s response to the court on Sunday found that in 2000 “there were no permanent residents in the area,” and that anyone living there was there only on a seasonal basis. On the other hand, the Civil Administration identified most of the petitioners as living in and around Yatta, as reported in the affidavit of Raziel Goldstein, who was the Civil Administration’s inspection coordinator in the region.

Goldstein also wrote in his affidavit that, “This examination was conducted with the help of three local residents, who were presented with the names of the petitioners and aerial photographs of Yatta.”

The state also claims that in recent years residents have been repeatedly violating the status quo by expanding structures illegally, adding that the number of people entering the area under the interim injunctions is far greater than the number of petitioners.

“The petitioners cannot build on the development of these illegal phenomena and now claim to be talking about permanent residency,” the state wrote.


Israel Issues Demolition Orders for 8 Palestinian Villages

Demolition orders issued.  Source:  Operation Dove/Christian Peacemaker Teams/File.
Demolition orders issued. Source: Operation Dove/Christian Peacemaker Teams/File.

A total of 1,500 residents will be evicted from their homes and have their lands confiscated in the villages of Majaz, Tabban, Sfai, Fakheit, Halaweh, Mirkez, Jinba, and Kharuba. The villages of Tuba, Mufaqara, Sarura, and Megheir al-Abeid, which are also nearby, appear to have been spared.

Evacuation orders were first issued in 1999, but were frozen by an injunction from the Israeli High Court of Justice. The Israeli military views the land as theirs however, and the Palestinians living there as illegal squatters according to Ha’aretz. 

All of the villages in question have existed since at least the 1830s. However, all are located in Area C, which is under complete Israeli control. 

This control means that Palestinians living in these villages are also not allowed to build on or improve their property in any way, as this is seen as “illegal construction” and evidence that residents are not longtime citizens but new migrants to the area. In practice this means that Palestinians do not have any way to provide for a naturally expanding population such as adding cisterns, restrooms or rooms to existing property, or constructing schools or other new buildings. 

Ha’aretz also reports that the state plans to move residents to the town of Yatta as collaborators have informed them that they are actually residents there.

The Israeli military intends to use the land to train soldiers and must be allowed to conduct live fire exercises which it cannot do with residents so nearby. The article says that this is not because residents may be injured or killed by live fire, but because they may spy on the exercises or steal weapons to use for “terror purposes.”

Mass forcible transfer of protected people in occupied territory by an occupying force is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and in contravention of all established international law. Exceptions are made only when there are hostilities in the area and transfer is necessary for the safety of the people in question.


In the South Hebron Hills, Even Sheep are not safe from the Settlers.


Settler Violence Topic | Category | Pictures | New: Interactive Map

PNN – Palestine News Network -27.10.11 – 23:39

by Juwaid al-Tamimi (Wafa)
The villages of al-Litwani and al-Jawaya, in the south Hebron hills, are suffering from settler attacks and even the sheep are not spared. Settlers from the illegal outposts of Ma’on, Susya, and Karmel, all built on land belonging to the Palestinian village of Yatta, made their latest attack on Thursday and killed 10 sheep.


“As always, the settlers attacked the villages under the protection of the army,” said 31-year-old Kamal Ruba’i. “They detain the citizens to give the settlers time to steal our homes and kill our sheep. And that’s not all, they drove 300 of our sheep to eat the crops we’ve been working in it the whole year.”


Ruba’i said the settlers then stole the sheep.


Ratib al-Jabour, the coordinator of the Yatta Committee Against the Wall and Settlements said many people who live in the south Hebron hills came out to help and protect their friends from the settlers, but were stopped by Israeli soldiers, who blocked the area and declared it a closed military zone.


Mohammed Mohayna, 43, said that the occupation has turned thousands of acres of Yatta land into a military training area over the past years and destroyed their income sources. Nevertheless, he says he plans to stay.


“We will keep to our land, living in it and for it,” said Mahmoud Dababseh, 46. “We will not leave until they put us on their shoulders and carry us out, no matter how hard it becomes for us.”


The president of the al-Litwani village council, Sabr al-Hraini, said the village was being targeted because settlers coveted the land, but said “the attacks will only make us stronger.”


“We are in a continued war with settlers,” said Zahran Abu Qubeita, the mayor of Yatta. “No day goes by without an attack on our children, lands and even our sheep.”


According to Yatta municipality figures, of the village’s original 95,000 dunums (a dunum is about a quarter of an acre), Israeli soldiers and settlers have taken around 30,000.

Source and more at the Palestine News Network