Residents of Kh. Basaliyeh putting out fire caused by military’s training. Between Kh. Basaliyeh and Humsah. Photo: ‘Aref Daraghmeh,, B’Tselem, 25 June 2015.
Israel's military exercises ravage Palestine's Jordan Valley
1st July 2015
Last month Palestinians of the Jordan Valley suffered a punitive regime of military exercises that displaced hundreds of people, set fire to farmland and holed water tanks - all part of Israel's plans to annex the region for Jewish settlements.
The movement of armored vehicles and more in this region and the thousands of soldiers marching clears the way. When the battalions march, people move aside ... where we reduced the amount of training, 'warts' have grown.
June 2015, the Israeli army displaced hundreds of Palestinians from their homes in the Jordan Valley, forcing them for from their homes and lands over seven days in which military exercises were held in the area.
During the military exercises grazing lands essential to the survival of the pastoralist communites have been set on fire and water tanks have been pierced by bullets.
And the Israeli military, in testimony given to the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, has been clear that the exercises are specifically intended to destroy 'illegal' buildings and persuade residents to abandon the affected areas.
As Colonel Einav Shalev, operations officer of Central Command, recently told the Judea and Samaria subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee convened to discuss "Illegal Palestinian construction in Area C" of the West Bank:
"I think that the movement of armored vehicles, other vehicles and more in this region and the thousands of soldiers marching clears the way. When the battalions march, people move aside. In places where we significantly reduced the amount of training, 'warts' have grown." By 'warts', he refers to Palestinian communities and their buildings.
Shalev also praised the Israeli policy of confiscating humanitarian equipment sent to relieve the suffering of Palestinian as delivering "a punch in the right places. When you confiscate ten large, white and expensive tents, it's not easy. It's not simple to recover."
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon clarified the position under questioning in the Knesset: "It's not pleasant to remove people from their homes, but what can we do when these are designated firing zones? Whoever is in an area that doesn't belong to him that has been declared a firing zone will have to be evacuated from there, and yes, we plan to remove more people."
But he came under attack by MK Dov Khenin, who likened the position to that of Firing Zone 918 in the South Hebron Hills: "After the Palestinians are expelled on grounds that it's a firing zone, settlers are allowed to take control of the land. We must immediately stop these transfer practices under the auspices of the IDF."
20 days of misery and destruction
Since the beginning of the year, Palestinians in the Jordan Valley have been displaced over 20 days of military training, according to the human rights group B'Tselem, which has documented the displacement of the residents and its impact on the lives of their communities.
In all some 6,200 Palestinians from 38 communities live in 'military training' areas of the West Bank, which encompass 18% of the Palestinian territory's total area - More than 'Area A' which is under direct Palestinian control, which covers 17.7% of the West Bank.
On 10th and 16th June, ten families from the community of Khirbet Humsah were made to leave their homes for seven hours as of 7.00 am. The families, numbering 69 people, 43 of them minors, were forced several kilometers from their homes, sometimes using carts dragged by tractors and sometimes on foot.
When they returned to their homes on 10th June, they found that grazing areas and cultivated farmland had gone up in flames, apparently as the result of live shelling, while water tanks used to water the flocks were pierced by bullets. They also reported finding unexploded ammunition close to their homes.
The same families, together with five othes from the same community, a total of 91 peoples including 51 minors, were forced out again on 22 June and 25 June at 6am. Again soldiers engaged in extensive shooting, leading to the outbreak of fires in grazing areas used by the residents some two kilometers from their homes.
'The fire spread across our grazing areas'
Yasser Abu Kabash, 42, a resident of the neighboring community of Khirbet Basaliyeh to the southwest of Khirbet Humsah, related in his testimony to B'Tselem field researcher 'Aref Daraghmeh:
"We heard mortar explosions and gunfire, and once in a while we could see fire. It spread across the grazing areas and came as close as half a kilometer from our tents in Basaliyeh. These grazing areas are the source of food for our flocks and they are our main lifeline. Without them, we will have to buy expensive fodder.
"Our lives are difficult, and any small saving is very significant in terms of our survival. After discussing the situation with my brothers, we decided to take a risk and try to put out the fire, although the area was still a closed military zone and there was still shooting.
"We spoke to the military officers who were there, but they refused to allow us to approach the area until the training ended. Eventually, when we saw that the fire was destroying large areas, we went around and entered the grazing areas from an area far from the maneuvers, while mortars were still being fired in the area.
"Some soldiers saw us and wanted to make us leave, but we explained that we wanted to put out the fire and they allowed us to do so. I didn't have anything on me that could help extinguish the fire. I took my pants off and used them to put out the fire.
"I told myself that this way I would save the grazing area for my flock, and that new pants would cost me much less than expensive fodder for the animals. We managed to put the fire out in several places."
During May residents of Khirbet Humsah had already been required to leave their homes for several hours over a period of one week. All told, from the beginning of the year through the end of June, residents of the community were required to leave their homes on 11 different days due to military training.
Entire communities displaced three times
Throughout June, all the residents of Khirbet al-Malih, ‘Ein al-Meyteh and al-Burj - three Palestinian communities that live close to each other - were displaced three times due to military maneuvers near their homes. Together, the three communities are home to 29 families numbering 180 members, more than a hundred of them minors.
On 11th, 17th and 23rd June, the residents were evacuated for six hours from 6.30 am, some on foot and others using carts dragged by tractors. On the final day they reported gunfire and explosions and saw fires break out in grazing land adjacent to al-Burj and to the nearby community of Khirbet Yarza, which was not required to evacuate.
David Perl, head of the Gush Etzion regional council, gave some indication of the mentality behind these operations when he spoke to the Knesset's Judaea and Samaria subcommittee:
"What we need is a new command spirit, similar to what has happened under your command ... Bring 100 inspectors who will work daily and throw out all that needs to be thrown out, without going to the supreme court or injunctions."
But Nitzan Horowitz, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee took an opposing view: "It's unacceptable that they hold a hearing on illegal Palestinian construction without inviting any Palestinians or organizations that don't belong to the settlers. It was a meeting of the settler committee, which is out of order and distorts the discussion."
Military exercises breach international humanitarian law
According to B'Tselem, the military maneuvers "cause unreasonable disruption to the lives of the communities in the area. The residents are required to leave their homes for many hours, sometimes on short notice of just a few hours.
"In some cases, they do not have any proper alternative location, and are left exposed to the harsh weather conditions that prevail in the Jordan Valley in the summer. In these conditions they must care for their families, from young children to the elderly, and find shelter, water and food. This hardship is particularly severe at present due to the month-long Ramadan fasting.
"The Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley rely almost exclusively for their livelihood on grazing flocks and growing crops on land next to their homes. Extensive damage to farmland and grazing areas due to gunfire, fires, and the passage of tanks and military vehicles through the fields jeopardizes the communities' very ability to survive in the area."
Under international humanitarian law, an occupying state is permitted to act in the occupied territory on the basis of just two considerations: the good of the local population and immediate military needs relating to the military's operations in the occupied territory.
As an occupying power, therefore, Israel is not entitled to use the land for general military needs, such as training or military exercises, says B'Tselem, and "is certainly not permitted to damage the livelihood of protected residents on this pretext and to act to expel them from their homes.
"Israel must halt immediately all temporary displacements of communities for the purpose of military training."
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