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Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


Israel's 'moral' army: expanding settlements, expelling Palestinians

by Ben White     9 March 2015      MEMO

Ma'ale Adumim

Palestinian schoolgirls walk with a donkey as the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, near Jerusalem, is seen in the background, Nov. 13, 2013. Photo by Reuters

The Israeli army has recently changed the status of West Bank land east of Jerusalem to enable the expansion of Ma'aleh Adumim settlement.

The order, signed on 18 January by Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, cancels the status of a military firing zone in the Jordan Valley known as 'Firing Zone 912', an area stretching all the way east to the Dead Sea.

According to Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, "there is a master plan for the area that earmarks it for the construction of dozens of housing units to expand Ma'aleh Adumim." Indeed, "work has already begun" on the "construction of 88 housing units" (known as 'Nofei Adumim').

This is a familiar tactic. In Occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities have rezoned 'green areas' that initially blocked Palestinian development, so as to facilitate the expansion of settlements when required (for example, Jabal Abu Ghneim became Har Homa).

Last December, Israeli officials described reports that they had surveyed and earmarked 35,000 dunams of land in West Bank firing zones to expand settlements as "completely baseless."

While Israeli authorities are happy to change the firing zone status of land in order to expand illegal colonies, they continue to demolish Palestinian homes on the basis that they are located in a military training area.

On 4 March, and for the second time this year, Israeli forces demolished all the structures of Khirbet 'Ein Karzaliyah, a small shepherding community in the northern Jordan Valley. Along with residential tents and animal shelters, Israeli officials also bulldozed the dirt road leading to the village.

The area where Khirbet 'Ein Karzaliyah is situated was declared a firing zone by the Israeli army in 1972, though residents say that no actual military exercises were held in the area until 2012.

According to Israeli NGO B'Tselem, "these demolitions are part of the Israeli authorities' longstanding policy designed to expel thousands of Palestinians from dozens of communities throughout Area C from their homes on various pretenses."

The organisation notes that "the expulsion of residents of an occupied area from their homes in order to enable the occupying army to hold exercises is illegal", and that the "repeated demolitions" are "nothing less than the cruel harassment of a particularly vulnerable population."

The Israeli military has designated some 18 percent of the West Bank as a 'firing zone' or closed military zone for training. In 2012, the UN estimated that 5,000 Palestinians live in the firing zones in 38 communities, "many of which existed prior to the closing of the area." 9 out of 10 of these communities are water scarce.

Even though most West Bank firing zones "are now abandoned or used only sporadically for training" – and constitute only 10 percent of the total land (in Israel and OPT) used by the Israeli army for training or firing zones – the Israeli army "is still keeping Palestinians out of these areas and demolishing buildings that are sometimes erected there."

For further confirmation of what is really going on here, see the remarks made by senior Israeli army official Col. Einav Shalev, to a Knesset committee in May 2014. There he explained that in places where the amount of training is reduced, "small weeds have grown" – a reference to Palestinian communities. The sight of an army on the march, he said, makes people "move aside."

Instructively, Shalev also described the Israeli army's confiscation of humanitarian equipment destined for Palestinians targeted by demolitions as "a punch in the right places." Such is the logic of an occupation force that expects us to believe it is the most moral army in the world.


IDF firing zones must not be used as tools of dispossession

The Israeli army is giving up a firing zone in the West Bank for the expansion of a Jewish settlement; so why does it find it necessary to destroy Palestinian homes for the sake of those same firing zones

Haaretz Editorial       9 March 2015           

An IDF firing zone in the Jordan Valley.

An IDF firing zone in the Jordan Valley. Photo by Miki Kartzman

The decision by Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Central Command, to sign an order reducing the size of the military firing zone in the Jordan Valley in favor of expanding the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, once again raises the question of the supervision and oversight of the exploitation of these areas, as Chaim Levinson reported on Sunday.

Firing zones are intended for the use of the IDF in its training and there is no disagreement about the necessity of allocating land for this purpose. But as past reports of the State Comptroller show, the oversight of the use of areas earmarked for firing zones has been unreasonably faulty.

Almost 80 percent of the territory of the State of Israel is under military and security restrictions, while on the West Bank Israel directly controls some 60 percent of the land; some is defined as state land and some, firing zones. The order from the head of the Central Command concerns Area 912, which borders the Jerusalem-Jericho road on its northern side, the Jordan Valley to the east, and the Hebron Hills on its southern side. In the Hebron Hills and the Judean Desert there are other broad areas allocated as military firing zones, which have already led to the evacuation of hundreds of Palestinian families from the eastern part of the Hebron Hills.

But firing zones, which over the years have turned into a political tool, through whose use territories have been transferred for building settlements or expanding them, are not holy lands. The firing zone under discussion is also intended for the expansion of the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. It is clear from this that the IDF — if it wants to — is capable of making do with a more limited area for its activities. Therefore it is possible to wonder how many other areas declared as firing zones are not anything but a future land reserve for building the settlements.

It would be possible to take seriously the claim of Col. Lior Shalev, the operations officer of the Central Command, who explained to a subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, that “one of the positive processes which can slip through our fingers is the return of firing zones to the place they are meant to be but are still not there.” In other words, to return to the control of the IDF.

But when the IDF removes Palestinian families and destroys their homes in order to prepare a “clean area” for building settlements in the same place, it strips its claims of all meaning. Moreover, the ease with which the IDF gives up areas it defines as essential in order to serve the construction of settlements, which are defined by international law as illegal, turns it into an active partner in carrying out a controversial policy.

The time has come for the State Comptroller to get to the heart of the matter of the firing zones, examine their necessity and the extent to which they are in use, and propose guidelines for them that will take into account the needs of Palestinian residents.