For the past three months the Israel Defense Forces have prohibited farmers from the West Bank Palestinian village of Aqraba from reaching their farmland and seasonal homes in the area, on the grounds that they are in a live-fire range. However, Givat 777, an auxiliary outpost of the Itamar settlement, is located in the same firing range.
Around 300 villagers earn their living by growing crops and raising sheep and goats in an area to the east of the village of Yanun.
Some of them live there year-round, in caves or in concrete or mud dwellings, while the rest reside there only as the seasons demand.
The IDF declared the area a firing zone after 1967, but according to Adwan Bani Jaber, who is in his mid-50s, it hasn't been used for training for about 20 years. When it was, the commanders would suspend the exercises for an hour or so to let the farmers get to their land.
Bani Jaber said that on one occasion about five months ago, a number of settlers waited for a few of the villagers, who rode a tractor on the dirt road. When the farmers returned, having fled the scene upon encountering the settlers, they found the burned remains of the tractor.
In early April there was an altercation with settlers armed with knives whom the villagers say ambushed them on the same road. The Palestinians were arrested and the IDF ordered the farmers not to use the path, on the grounds that it is in a firing zone.
Since then, the villagers say, an Israeli man who pitched a tent on a hill that commands the path and the spring for the area uses the same path freely, even putting his flocks out to pasture on the wheat fields they planted six months ago and are not permitted to harvest.
Around two weeks ago Bani Jaber and a few family members walked down to the field on a long, circuitous route to try to salvage some of the wheat. When they saw settlers nearby, they called the IDF's Coordination and Liaison Administration, which ordered them to stop working and to remain in their homes. At 10 P.M. an army detail, accompanied by an officer from the liaison administration, arrived. At first they were told to leave immediately, but afterward the villagers were allowed to remain overnight. Bani Jaber and his family have not been allowed back since.
In a response the IDF Spokesman's Office said: "The place was declared a firing zone a long time ago. The firing zone is closed to Palestinians and Israelis, with the exception of anyone who was a permanent resident of the place before it was declared a firing zone. The authorities enforce the law on both Israelis and Palestinians."
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