In the southern West Bank (oPt), in the South Hebron Hills, there exists an area called Masafer Yatta. The area encompasses some 1000 inhabitants and twelve Palestinian villages: Tuba, al-Mufaqarah, Isfey, Maghayir al Abeed, al-Majaz, at-Tabban, al-Fakheit, Halaweh, Mirkez, Jinba, Kharoubeh and Sarura. According to the Oslo Accord this is defined as Area C, under complete civil and military control of Israel. . However, already in the early 1970s. Israel declared the area as ‘Firing Zone 918’, a closed military zone.
In 1999 Israeli military forces, accompanied by Civil Administration officials, expelled the inhabitants living within Firing Zone 918, destroying Palestinian-owned private property in the process. The residents petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice, which issued a temporary injunction allowing people to return back to their homes and forbidding the state to expel them until a final decision in the matter was rendered. Notwithstanding, life for Palestinian communities in the area worsened because of settlement expansion in the area and ongoing settler violence. Moreover, Israel’s military and civil administrations carried out demolition orders and delivered stop working orders to area residents, preventing the construction of new houses and the renovation of existing ones.
In April 2012 the Israeli High Court resumed deliberations in the case. On 19 July 2012 the state, following instructions from the Ministry of Defense, submitted a detailed notification to the Court claiming the Petitioners are not “permanent residents” of the firing zone area and hence have no right to live there. On 7 August 2012 the High Court ruled that the state’s announcement constituted “a change in the normative situation” and consequently the specific petitions “were no longer relevant” and thus dismissed. A new petition was then submitted by Palestinian residents of the area and on 16 December the High Court of Justice will render a decision. If the Court rejects this new petition, residents of eight of the twelve villages in Firing Zone 918 will be evacuated and their homes and villages demolished.
Israel claimed that following the 2006 Lebanon War, its security needs increased and that troops now require additional ongoing training and more firing zones are needed, including Firing Zone 918 in the Masafer Yatta area.
However, this Israeli military requirement has no direct relation with the occupation because it refers to general army trainings; as such and according to international law, it is not a ‘military necessity. This means that the planned Israeli measures of eviction and demolition of eight villages within Firing Zone 918 would be unlawful; They are not permitted under the Hague Regulations and would constitute grave breaches of the IV Geneva Convention as according to international law, ‘military general training’ cannot for any reason be considered as a military need.
Moreover if a firing zone for general military trainings is established under International Humanitarian Law (IHL), in no case could expropriations and movement restrictions be justified in the twelve villages located within Firing Zone 918. According to Article 46 of the Hague Regulation, private property must be respected and cannot be confiscated, which includes the destruction of private property for establishment of a firing zone. Under these circumstances, Israel’s planned destruction of the villages with the purpose of using Firing Zone 918 would constitute a clear violation of the Article. 53 of the IV Geneva Convention and would amount to a grave breach according to Article 147. Finally, in the matter of prohibition of forcible transfer, IHL does not differentiate between permanent and non-permanent residents as the Israeli legislation does. Forcibly displacing any of the inhabitants or any community of the twelve villages (either for general military trainings or for their purported lack of building permits) is a violation of Article 49 of the IV Geneva Convention and constitutes another grave breach to Article 147. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), since 1967 Israel has designated about 18% of the West Bank as a closed military zone for the purposes of military training (not including the closed military areas around Israeli settlements, all the lands located between the Separation Wall and the Green Line), rendering the areas effectively off limits for Palestinians.
Firing Zone 918 violates fundamental basic human rights. Its abolition would be a step toward promoting access by Palestinian inhabitants of the area to:
the right of a dignified life;
freedom of movement;
right to private property;
right to education;
right to work;
right to medical care;
freedom of worship.
Given these circumstances, we strongly demand:
Annulment of the Israeli Ministry of Defence decision to evacuate the area;
Abolition of the entire Firing Zone 918;
Respect for the rights and dignity of Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills.
Popular Struggle Coordination Committee
South Hebron Hills Popular Committee
Operation Dove – Nonviolent Peace Corps of Association “Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII”
ISM – International Solidarity Movement
CPT – Christian Peacemaker Teams
Alternative Information Center
Get the pdf of the Petition: NoFiringZone918-PETITION