The double standards of ‘firing zones’ in the West Bank

by Nikki, Yanoun Team

“Why is it a military zone for Palestinians only?” exclaims Ayman Banifadl, Mayor of Aqraba.

He is referring to the ‘closed military zones’ or ‘firing zones’ which the Israeli authorities have assigned to 30% of Area C in the West Bank. These areas are meant to be used for military training exercises and usually have signs prohibiting all access, even though often signs are placed directly in front of already existing Palestinian communities. However, the Yanoun team has recently sighted Israeli settlers alongside the Israeli army during a military training exercise within a ‘firing zone’, indicating the ongoing collaboration occurring between the Israeli army and settlers. This incident also highlights the double standards which are exercised by the Israeli army in relation to who is allowed within these closed military areas.

A typical sign placed in front of a community declaring an area a ‘firing zone’ in the Jordan Valley Photo EAPPI/N. Ray.

A typical sign placed in front of a community declaring an area a ‘firing zone’ in the Jordan Valley Photo EAPPI/N. Ray.

Communities living in areas of the West Bank now considered a ‘firing zone’ by the Israeli authorities face huge threats to their existence. These threats include demolition, displacement, and limited ability to realize their rights to water, adequate shelter, education, health, and livelihood.  Many communities have demolition orders on their structures and frequently Israeli authorities demolish houses & structures.

Nearby to the large village of Aqraba is Tawayel (or, Tell al Khashaba), a small Palestinian herding community located within Area C and within a ‘firing zone’. The very existence of Tawayel has been threatened by the demolition of multiple houses and structures, including the community’s mosque on 29 April 2014. According to Ayman, “in 1976 the Israelis said that all the land from Aqraba [eastwards] to Jordan is a firing zone.” This announcement came despite multiple Palestinian communities living within this area. The reason for declaring the area a ‘firing zone’ seems clear to Ayman: establishment of Israeli settlements. He describes how the settlement of Gittit, to the east of Tawayel, was established. The area was first declared a ‘closed military zone’ and a small army camp was established. A mere 2 years later the camp was disbanded and the land was handed to Israeli settlers who built the Gittit settlement.

“It is clear that these lands are used for economic reasons, not military ones,” Ayman tells us.

10 Israeli settlement outposts have been established and allowed to expand within these ‘firing zones’ in Area C, even though they are illegal under international and Israeli law. Whilst Palestinian communities present before the areas were designated ‘firing zones’, face frequent demolitions and are prevented from building to expand or repair their communities.

 

The remains of the house demolished on 20th August 2014 in Tawayel Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

The remains of the house demolished on 20 August 2014 in Tawayel
Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that the “Occupying Power may undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand”. The Israeli army uses the area around Tawayel for military exercises on average once a month. As Ayman stresses, however, “there has been no war in this area since 1967.” The existence of these communities cannot be constituted as an ‘imperative military reason’.

In the case of Tawayel, there are no plans for forced transfer of the community. Instead, the people of Tawayel are being slowly pushed off their land under the auspices of a ‘firing zone’ without anywhere else to go. Ayman believes that the Israeli authority’s policy is to ensure that all remote Palestinian communities are displaced to towns.

If it was not already evident that a ‘firing zone’ only applies to Palestinians and not Israeli settlers, it became clear on 10 September 2014. The EAPPI team in Yanoun was called to Tawayel at 12:30 pm due to sightings of Israeli soldiers near to the village. When we arrived we found a group of 10 soldiers fully armed sitting under a tree sheltering from the midday sun, 100 meters from houses in Tawayel. We stayed in Tawayel to monitor the soldiers’ movements. At 1:30 pm, 3 Israeli army jeeps were sighted at the eastern end of the valley driving towards Tawayel. They had come to drop off more soldiers underneath the trees ready for, what it appeared to be, a training operation on foot.

Following close behind the 3 military jeeps was a civilian jeep. Basem Dili, the Head of Tawayel, identified the driver of the civilian jeep as a settler by the name of Koby. He explains that Koby lives in the settlement of Itamar, near to Yanoun. According to Basem, Koby was the settler who had been in charge of confiscating land around Yanoun to build settlement outposts to expand Itamar. Koby paused to have a conversation with the 2 military jeeps which were stopped by the trees before he continued along the valley. Afterwards the military jeeps returned in the direction they had come from. What was occurring before our eyes was confirmation of the close, collaborative relationship existing between the Israeli army and Israeli settlers.

“No one is making a demolition order for the settlers; [instead] they are building a road for him,” said the Mayor of Aqraba at the most recent house demolition in Tawayel on 20 August 2014, which left 17 people homeless.

‘Firing zones’ in this area are being utilized for settlement expansion towards the Jordan Valley. Like the village of Yanoun, the disappearance of Tawayel would bring the expansion of illegal settlements across the breadth of the West Bank one step closer. It would enable the connection of Itamar to the Jordan Valley settlements. But the people of Tawayel continue to stay strong and remain on their land amidst military training exercises and house demolitions. They have no other choice but to stay, where else would they graze their livestock and earn a living?

*On the morning this article was published, 29 September 2014, Israeli authorities arrived in Tawayel and demolished all the community’s electricity poles.

An innocent oven keeping courts and lawyers busy

A court case over an oven is only one detail in the story of a village under the threat of demolition

by South Hebron Hills team, Group 50

The settlement of Karmel is located right next to the Bedouin village of Um al Kher. Photo EAPPI/ G. Hember.

The settlement of Karmel is located right next to the Bedouin village of Um al Kher. Photo EAPPI/ G. Hember.

We recently visited Um al Kher, a village in the South Hebron Hills, home to 21 Bedouin families, refugees driven away from the Negev after the 1948 war. The head of one family clan greeted us heartily. We were astonished at how close the illegal settlement of Karmel is to these Bedouin tents. The barbwire fence of the settlement is less then 10 meters away.

The contrast is striking! There are nice one-family houses, some of which are not even finished but with gardens and a rather sterile look; these sit behind the barbwire fence and right next to the Bedouin multi-family tents. Sheep, chickens, dogs and some donkeys are in animal shelters nearby the tents or running about freely.

The taboon oven in Um al Kher has a demolition order on it. Photo EAPPI.

The taboon oven in Um al Kher has a demolition order on it. Photo EAPPI.

Our team approached the incriminating oven. It is a wonderful old taboon, the traditional Bedouin mud oven in which they bake their special bread. We are just in time, for as we arrive the bread is ready. And in typical Palestinian style we are given the first warm, freshly baked loaf. Meanwhile, another inhabitant of the community has joined us. Eid, a local artist, told us that the settlers had filed complaints against the oven. Unfortunately, the winds blow the smoke from the oven to the nearest extension of the settlement. But the direction of the winds depends on the season. It is not always blowing towards the settlement. And the baking is only in the morning and evening; however, it seems it was enough to send the settlers to court.

The oven story is only one detail in a long history of injustice. We are in Area C in the West Bank. This area is under total Israeli control. The village of Um al Kher faces restricted access to water and farmland, no public services, restricted freedom of movement, constant military presence and routine harassment from settlers. And besides all of this, there are also demolition orders. Not only is the small oven a target for demolition, but much of the village as well. Bulldozers have shown up several times since 2007. The most recent home demolition was in January of this year, leaving 8 people homeless.

This Bedouin community is comprised of refugees. But they have bought this land and have the papers to prove it. However, this is of no interest to the Israeli authorities. They approved the Karmel settlement in 1981, and since then it has continuously expanded.

We return to the oven and the delicious bread. The Israeli authorities appear to have shown understanding for the alleged unhealthy smoke from the oven. The Civil Administration for the Judea and Samaria Region, Supreme Planning Council, Subcommittee for Supervision issued an order against it. This is the responsible authority for law and order.  The poor oven is a threat to law and order. We wonder if a Palestinian could ever successfully complain against the cruel and unhealthy smell of the numerous factories that have been moved into the West Bank because the emissions were too unhealthy for Israeli citizens.

Shim'a Industrial Complex is built right next to the village of Wedadie. Photo EAPPI.

Shim’a Industrial Complex is built right next to the village of Wedadie. Photo EAPPI.

A couple of days later we visited the village of Wedadie located very near the industrial zone belonging to the Shim’a settlement. Here we were overwhelmed by the smell of a noxious chemical odor that provoked a headache.  Inhabitants of Wedadie have not been able to file a complaint against this enterprise.

These cases are clear examples of human rights violations and the inequality in rights between Israeli settlers and Palestinians. Many rights are given to Israeli settlers who live in the West Bank illegally, yet none are afforded to the local Palestinian population. There will be no equality, no liberty, no fraternity between the two peoples as long as the separation wall, settlements, and daily harassments are ongoing. Peace will continue to be elusive.