During the most recent weekly visit to villages in the South Hebron hills, CPTers witnessed the presence of a large group of Israeli soldiers and heard an artillery training activity. Every week, CPT provides protective presence in an area, home to 12 villages, that has been declared a closed military zone for training, Firing Zone 918, by the Israeli Military.
On Sunday September 15, CPTers witnessed soldiers and a military vehicle near the village of Halaweh. They also witnessed two helicopter flyovers as children studied and played at the school in Al Fakheit. They heard several others helicopters flying nearby during the night. On the morning of September 16, CPTers heard what seemed to be bomb detonation and machine gun fire. Later in the morning, when they visited the village of Jinba, residents confirmed that the Israeli military had conducted infantry training exercises nearby from about 6 to 8 AM that morning.
In the visit to Jinba, CPTers also learned that the Israeli authorities stopped members of World Vision as they were driving from Jinba to Al Fakheit and confiscated their car. According to a member of the UNHCR, this occurred on September 11 and Israeli authorities said they would not return the car for at least 60 days.
The area has been relatively quiet since May – with no training activities seen or heard, though helicopter flyovers continued even during this “quiet” time and settler violence and a military raid occurred in July.
On their way into the area, CPTers also witnessed the digging of a new cistern. The Israeli government issued a stop work order on the cistern, citing the area it’s being dug within the firing zone as a “nature reserve.” Nevertheless, the work continues.
The area is currently the subject of a court case in the Israeli Supreme Court which 8 of the 12 villages, where about 1,000 people live, are under eviction orders. Many structures within those villages also have demolition orders. When the case came to court on September 2, the judicial panel proposed mediation. The case will again come before the court on October 2. The military exercises CPTers witnessed were the first since the September 2 court date.
The UN’s 2012 Humanitarian Impact of Israeli-declared “Firing Zone” in the West Bank Factsheet reports that in addition to restriction on grazing livestock (the livelihood of many inhabitants of the area, “residents of firing zones face a range of other difficulties including the confiscation of property, settler violence, harassment by soldiers, access and movement restrictions and/or water scarcity. Combined, these conditions contribute to a coercive environment that creates pressure on Palestinian communities to leave these areas… International law also prohibits the destruction or confiscation of private or public property, unless for reasons of military necessity, as well as the forced displacement or transfer of civilians.”