The Israeli military has begun live-fire training exercises in the Masafer Yatta region of the West Bank, following the High Court of Justice’s ruling to allow the use of the area in the South Hebron Hills as a firing zone. The training exercises were the first in the area in over twenty years and are clearly tactics of intimidation intended to force the local Palestinian population to move out ‘of their own free will.’ Despite the military’s assurances that the residents would remain unharmed, a bullet already struck a house in one of the many Palestinian villages nearby.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has petitioned the High Court for an additional hearing. The state is expected to respond by August 2. Meanwhile, ACRI also filed for an injunction that would require the army to suspend its operations in the area until the issue is resolved, a request which the Court dismissed. The military halted the exercises during President Biden’s visit to Israel, but is expected to resume them after he leaves. The Palestinian petitioners are represented by ACRI attorneys Roni Pelli and Dan Yakir in this important legal campaign to prevent their forced expulsion.
In response to the upcoming High Court hearing and reports about the bullet that hit a Palestinian home, the Israeli military said, “There is insufficient evidence that the building was hit by fire during training.” However, the military admitted that in the maps that were developed to ensure that the live fire would not affect the Palestinian residents of the area, the village of Khalat-A-Deba, where the bullet hit, was omitted. Even so, the military insists that the village is outside the range of the military’s shooting by three kilometers. In other words, he claimed that the village is located on a hill beyond the range of the weapons used in the exercise. Thus, he said, “It is not possible to be certain that the firing from the training hit the building.”
In May, Israel’s High Court approved the eviction of over 1,000 Palestinians from eight villages in the South Hebron Hills. The Israeli army declared the area a military zone in the 1980s, calling it “Firing Zone 918.” The state asserts that the inhabitants who settled there were nomads — though the residents vehemently deny this, insisting that they have been farming land in the area for many years.