The Israeli army has recently changed the status of West Bank land east of Jerusalem to enable the expansion of Ma’aleh Adumim settlement.
The order, signed on 18 January by Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, cancels the status of a military firing zone in the Jordan Valley known as ‘Firing Zone 912’, an area stretching all the way east to the Dead Sea.
According to Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, “there is a master plan for the area that earmarks it for the construction of dozens of housing units to expand Ma’aleh Adumim.” Indeed, “work has already begun” on the “construction of 88 housing units” (known as ‘Nofei Adumim’).
This is a familiar tactic. In Occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities have rezoned ‘green areas’ that initially blocked Palestinian development, so as to facilitate the expansion of settlements when required (for example, Jabal Abu Ghneim became Har Homa).
Last December, Israeli officials described reports that they had surveyed and earmarked 35,000 dunams of land in West Bank firing zones to expand settlements as “completely baseless.”
While Israeli authorities are happy to change the firing zone status of land in order to expand illegal colonies, they continue to demolish Palestinian homes on the basis that they are located in a military training area.
On 4 March, and for the second time this year, Israeli forces demolished all the structures of Khirbet ‘Ein Karzaliyah, a small shepherding community in the northern Jordan Valley. Along with residential tents and animal shelters, Israeli officials also bulldozed the dirt road leading to the village.
The area where Khirbet ‘Ein Karzaliyah is situated was declared a firing zone by the Israeli army in 1972, though residents say that no actual military exercises were held in the area until 2012.
According to Israeli NGO B’Tselem, “these demolitions are part of the Israeli authorities’ longstanding policy designed to expel thousands of Palestinians from dozens of communities throughout Area C from their homes on various pretenses.”
The organisation notes that “the expulsion of residents of an occupied area from their homes in order to enable the occupying army to hold exercises is illegal”, and that the “repeated demolitions” are “nothing less than the cruel harassment of a particularly vulnerable population.”
The Israeli military has designated some 18 percent of the West Bank as a ‘firing zone’ or closed military zone for training. In 2012, the UN estimated that 5,000 Palestinians live in the firing zones in 38 communities, “many of which existed prior to the closing of the area.” 9 out of 10 of these communities are water scarce.
Even though most West Bank firing zones “are now abandoned or used only sporadically for training” – and constitute only 10 percent of the total land (in Israel and OPT) used by the Israeli army for training or firing zones – the Israeli army “is still keeping Palestinians out of these areas and demolishing buildings that are sometimes erected there.”
For further confirmation of what is really going on here, see the remarks made by senior Israeli army official Col. Einav Shalev, to a Knesset committee in May 2014. There he explained that in places where the amount of training is reduced, “small weeds have grown” – a reference to Palestinian communities. The sight of an army on the march, he said, makes people “move aside.”
Instructively, Shalev also described the Israeli army’s confiscation of humanitarian equipment destined for Palestinians targeted by demolitions as “a punch in the right places.” Such is the logic of an occupation force that expects us to believe it is the most moral army in the world.