1000 Palestinians, all civilians and nearly half of them children, face imminent forced expulsion from their homes in Masafer Yatta, which lies within an area of the West Bank that Israel claims as Firing Zone 918.
The Israeli military has issued demolition orders for the region’s two primary school and clinic, and the villagers’ homes, mosques , agricultural buildings and wells – a temporary court injunction is all that prevents their forced relocation.
These families share a unique way of life, subsisting on a form of dry land agriculture that has sustained them for generations. They are dependent on sheep and goats, which they graze carefully in the dry rocky hills and valleys of the South Hebron Hills.
The families are living in the midst of military exercises in which soldiers enter homes, occupy villages, and prevent shepherds from grazing their sheep and goats. Israeli soldiers hover helicopters above schools, homes and grazing sheep, drive across cultivated fields and gardens in huge destructive military vehicles, and fire across the fields where children walk to school. Both soldiers and settlers frequently damage the minimal track which provides the only motorized access to the area, and residents are unable to obtain permission to maintain or improve the road, making access to school, health care and commerce difficult and often dangerous. Shepherds face frequent intimidation and violence form settlers in nearby settlements and illegal outposts, and have no meaningful legal recourse.
Israeli firing zones take up 18 percent of the West Bank. The southernmost of these is Firing Zone 918, which covers an area of twelve villages. (view map) 13,000 Palestinians live in Firing Zone 918. Residents of four of the villages have been told they may remain, only because the ammunition used by soldiers near their homes is not live. The 1000 residents of the other eight villages, half of whom are children, could lose their homes, their schools, their crops and livestock, their mosques and their livelihoods. A temporary court injunction is all that stands between them and the demolition of their homes and villages.
More than half of the Palestinians living in Firing Zone 918 are under the age of 16. These children attend schools together in two of the villages, but to reach these schools many of them face a long and isolated walk through rough dry country, where they are vulnerable to settler violence. After much work and negotiating the area was able to get a jeep through the Ministry of Education to drive the children part of the way to their schools, however the driver has faced frequent harassment from soldiers, and the villages have asked that internationals accompany him as he drives the children.
In October of 2013, soldiers stopped the Ministry of Education jeep. The soldiers detained the driver and confiscated the jeep, forcing a child to walk to her home alone. They forced the driver to drive the jeep to a police station in a settlement where they impounded the jeep and detained the driver. The driver explained that the jeep, which was donated by the government of Japan, was the property of the Palestinian Ministry of Education and was being used to transport school children, but soldiers told him he was not allowed to drive the jeep in Firing Zone 918
No child should have to face these roadblocks to an education, or be deprived of the chance to play that school offers to the children of these isolated villages. No child should be afraid that her ride to school might be interrupted by soldiers with guns, who force driver of the vehicle she’s in to abandon her and drive away. No driver should be detained and mistreated merely for trying to assure that a community’s children reach their schools. The right to education, safety, and the chance to play and be a child are recognized and protected under the international Rights of the Child.
But for these Palestinian children, living where an occupying power has decided they want to train soldiers for combat, in order to be better prepared to wage war against the very people who inhabit the land, these universally recognized basic human rights are under attack.
Residents of Masafer Yatta, including families and children, have experienced night time raids of their homes by soldiers, such as the one described below by journalst Gdeon Levy:
“During the night between July 3 and 4, thirty soldiers with five military jeeps broke in the Palestinian village of Jinba in the area called by the IDF Firing Zone 918. The soldiers arrived from the Israeli outpost of Mitzpe Yair and from the military base located nearby the Palestinian village, together with two settlers who were accusing Palestinians of having stolen one of their sheep. Soldiers broke into and ransacked several Palestinian houses breaking metal doors; they threw stun grenades, among which one was thrown into a house and one directly hit a man who was sleeping outdoor. During the raid four boys were beaten by soldiers with their guns. Three men were brought and detained into the Israeli outpost of Mitzpe Yair for several hours. The last one (Mahmoud Isa Ibrahim Rabai) was released at 9:00 am.