In the southern West Bank (oPt), in the South Hebron Hills, there exists an area called Masafer Yatta. The area encompasses twelve Palestinian villages and some 1000 inhabitants: Tuba, al-Mufaqarah, Isfey, Maghayir al Abeed, al-Majaz, at-Tabban, al-Fakheit, Halaweh, Mirkez, Jinba, Kharoubeh and Sarura. According to the Oslo peace process, this is Area C, which means that it is under civil and military Israeli Administration. In the early 1970s, Israel declared the area a ‘closed military area’, called ‘Firing Zone 918’.
In 1999 Israeli military forces, accompanied by civil Administration officials, expelled the residents. Against the expulsion, the inhabitants petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice that issued a temporary injunction allowing people to return to their houses and forbidding the state to expel them pending a final decision. Notwithstanding, life for Palestinian communities in the area worsened because of the destruction of private properties during the eviction, the expansion of settlements, and the ongoing violence of settlers. Moreover, the military and civil Administration carried out demolition orders and delivered stop working orders, preventing the construction of new houses and the renovation of the old ones.
In April 2012 the Israeli Court resumed their deliberation of the case. On the 19th of July 2012 the state, following Ministry of Defense instructions, submitted a detailed notification to the Court in which it claimed that the petitioners are not “permanent residents” of the firing zone area and hence have no right to live there. On the 7th of August 2012 the Court decided that the state's announcement constituted “a change in the normative situation” and as a consequence the specific petitions “were no longer relevant” and so dismissed. Therefore a new petition will be submitted by the lawyers of the Palestinians on the 16th of December to the High Court of Justice. If the Court rejects the inhabitants’ petition eight of the twelve villages could be evicted.
In this case the Israeli authorities could take decisions which would be against International Common Law. Israel claimed that after the end of the II Lebanon War (2006) security levels increased and, as a consequence, troops needed to return to regular training: that meant the necessity for more firing zones, including the one in the Masafer Yatta area.
However, the Israeli military requirement has no direct relation with the occupation because it refers to IDF general trainings; and as such, according to international law, it is not a 'military need'. This means that the measures that could be taken would be unlawful because they are not permitted under the Hague Regulations and would constitute grave breaches of the IV Geneva Convention. 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 training is established, according to International Humanitarian Law (IHL), it would not justify expropriations or movement restrictions in the twelve villages. Article 46 of the Hague Declaration states that private property must be respected and it cannot be confiscated. Also, destruction of private property for the establishment of a firing zone, intended for military trainings, cannot be justified because it does not constitute a military need. Under these circumstances, the expected destruction of the villages with the purpose of using Firing Zone 918 would constitute a clear violation of art. 53 of the IV Geneva Convention and would amount to a grave breach according to art. 147. Finally, in the matter of prohibition of forcible transfer, IHL does not differentiate between permanent and non-permanent residents as Israeli legislation does. Forcibly displacing any of the inhabitants or any community of the twelve villages (either for general military trainings or for the lack of building permits) is a violation of art. 49 of the IV Geneva Convention and constitutes another grave breach of art. 147. According to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN 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, and all the lands located between the Barrier and the Green Line, etc.), making the areas effectively off-limits to Palestinians.
Firing Zone 918 violates basic human rights. Its abolition would be a step toward promoting access by Palestinian inhabitants of the area to:
• the right to a dignified life;
• the freedom of movement;
• the right to private property;
• the right to education;
• the right to work;
• the right to medical care;
• the freedom of worship.
Given these circumstances, we strongly demand:
• the refusal of the Ministry of Defense request to evict the area;
• the abolition of Firing Zone 918;
• the respect for the rights and dignity of Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills.