Defense Ministry: Army to Keep Expelling Palestinians From Firing Zones

Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon responded to query about a Haaretz report that the military uses training zones to displace Palestinians.

Michal Fattal

The army plans to continue expelling Palestinians from military firing zones in Area C of the West Bank, which is under total Israeli control, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon told the Knesset on Wednesday.

“It’s not pleasant to remove people from their homes, but what can we do when these are designated firing zones?” he said. “Whoever is in an area that doesn’t belong to him that has been declared a firing zone will have to be evacuated from there, and yes, we plan to remove more people.”

Danon was responding to an urgent parliamentary query by MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) following a Haaretz report that an Israel Defense Forces official acknowledged the IDF uses training zones in the West Bank to displace Palestinians. Zandberg addressed her query to the Defense Ministry, asking how the officials' admission was congruent with the state’s argument that live-fire zones are designated solely for military purposes. She demanded to know what the defense minister was doing to prevent the IDF from being used for political purposes.

After hearing Danon’s response, Zandberg posted a scathing attack on Danon on her Facebook page. “The deputy defense minister replied that the IDF will continue these expulsions, ‘enforcement’ as he put it in his whitewashed language, while ignoring the fact that on some of these firing zones from which Palestinians are expelled, Jewish settlement construction is continuing, an inelegant evasion of the report to the Knesset by Col. Einav Shalev that the IDF is increasing training to push Palestinians out of Area C," she wrote.

“Apparently the deputy minister is starting to prepare to implement the Bennett plan to annex Area C while cleansing it of as many as possible Palestinians. There is no choice but to replace this government.”

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) echoed Zandberg, saying, “Just as we saw in the case of Firing Zone 918 [in the South Hebron Hills], after the Palestinians are expelled on grounds that it’s a firing zone, settlers are allowed to take control of the land. We must immediately stop these transfer practices under the auspices of the IDF.

The report by Amira Hass in Haaretz last month quoted Col. Einav Shalev, operations officer of the IDF Central Command, telling a subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that preventing illegal Palestinian construction was one of the main reasons the Israel Defense Forces has recently increased its training in the Jordan Valley.

“I think that the movement of armored vehicles, other vehicles and more in this region and the thousands of soldiers marching clears the way,” Shalev said. “When the battalions march, people move aside. There are places where, when we reduced the quantity of training substantially, weeds started growing,” a reference to unauthorized Palestinian construction.

At that subcommittee meeting, which took place on April 27, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said that his office immediately files complaints with the embassies of those countries whose organizations are involved with unauthorized Palestinian construction. “It’s totally unimportant to us who is funding this illegal construction … over the past three months every organization that we caught building illegally, their embassy got a letter an hour afterward.”

Mordechai, however, stressed that the job of the Civil Administration is to enforce the law against both Palestinians and Israelis and submitted data from 2013 that he said proved the scope of oversight and enforcement. For example, he noted that the Civil Administration confiscated 217 kilometers of irrigation pipes laid by Israelis and destroyed seven rainwater collection ponds.