by Team Khalil
23 January 2013 | International Solidarity Movement, Massafer Yatta, Occupied Palestine
On Monday 21st January over 100 soldiers from the Israeli army held training exercises in the firing zone 918 in Massafer Yatta, also known as South Hebron Hills. The exercises continued throughout the day on Tuesday 22nd January. The Israeli military set up tented encampments near to two Palestinian villages, Mirkez and Jinba. Live fire could be heard in the area until late on Monday evening and on Tuesday.
Israeli occupation forces erected a large tent midway between the army base camp and Jinba. Another large tent was erected in the valley between Jinba and Mirkez, also several groups of soldiers of around ten, camped near the two villages in small tents or ‘bivvi bags’. These camps, some of them less than 50 metres away, surrounded the village of Mirkez, other camps were in front of Jinba and on the hill towards Hallawi. A large military truck was parked on the road near to Mirkez and jeeps and humvees drove around the area. Soldiers constantly walked from one camp to another over the fields where crops have been planted for sheep to graze.
Residents in Mirkez complained about interference from the soldiers when taking their sheep out to graze, being told they could not bring their sheep close to the soldiers. One resident of Mirkez said soldiers had thrown stones at their sheep hitting three of them, he also complained of being a prisoner in his own village unable to move freely. Residents of Jinba expressed similar sentiments saying there were soldiers camped in front of the village and settlements behind.
On Monday afternoon international volunteers talked to an officer at the camp between Jinba and the army base. When asked what the army was doing, the officer said the soldiers were being trained in how to deal with the cold conditions and that they would be there for a week. The officer went on to say they would not enter the villages and the actions of the army were nothing to do with the Palestinians. The international volunteers said the residents were worried by how close the camps were to the villages, especially Mirkez. The officer said that they were thinking of moving one of the camps for this reason. On Tuesday, the only discernible difference was the army truck had moved from the road near Mirkez but soldiers were still camped in the same place where the truck had been.
The presence of the Israeli army holding these exercises in the firing zone 918 is causing worry and distress to the Palestinians living there, as well as disruption to daily life. On Monday afternoon around 15 people were standing in the fields by a fire in front of Jinba concerned for the village and their families. At least one person from the village did not go into work in Yatta on Tuesday in order to protect his loved ones and livestock. The people of Jinba and Mirkez are unable to access and work their lands during such exercises. The sound of live gunfire throughout the day causes anxiety and at night disturbs sleep. The gunfire lasted until after 10 pm on Monday night.
The so called firing zone 918 is an area of 30000 dunams in Massafer Yatta (also known as South Hebron Hills). Declaring it a “closed military zone”, the Israeli army uses the area for the training of its soldiers. There are 12 Palestinian villages within the area and around 1000 Palestinian inhabitants. Currently eight villages are under the threat of eviction. There has been ongoing harassment of the Palestinian residents of the area.
On 16th November 1999 the Israeli military forcibly removed over 700 cave dwellers, eighty-three families, from their caves in the South Hebron Hills, because the Israeli family said they needed the area for a military firing range (designated as a closed military zone for training, or “firing zone 918”). The soldiers confiscated and put the belongings of the Palestinians into military vans. They demolished scores of caves, cave entrances, and wells. Flocks of sheep were scattered. The people and their flocks had to spend the cold winter away from their caves. The people resisted by going to the Israeli High Court. On 29th March 2000 the villages won a partial, temporary victory, when the Israeli High Court ruled that residents who had signed on to the lawsuit in the Israeli High Court could return to their cave homes and land, pending a decision of the case. Finally the High Court decided that all residents could return. (In: Arthur G. Gish: At-Tuwani Journal: Hope & Nonviolent Action in a Palestinian Village, Herald Press, 2008)
Team Khalil is a group of volunteers of International Solidarity Movement based in Hebron (al Khalil)