An unusual operation by the Israel Defense Forces in the South Hebron Hills region has intensified suspicions among Palestinian residents that Israel is moving forward with its plan to demolish villages in the area and expel their residents.
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Two Israel Air Force helicopters landed soldiers on Tuesday in Jinba, an isolated village inhabited by cave dwellings in the southern West Bank. It is one of eight villages slated for demolition according to Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s plan to allow the military to resume its training in the area, known as Firing Zone 918.
According to reports by the residents, the helicopters landed and took off at the site six times, each time carrying soldiers. The soldiers erected a command center in a tent outside the village, and two jeeps and a Hummer parked next to the tent.
The soldiers, who were masked and armed, raided the village, photographed and mapped the cave dwellings, the tents and the structures, and made extensive searches while causing property damage, the residents said. The soldiers also emptied out the contents of closets and poured out jugs of milk and cream.
At the time of the raid, dozens of children, who study in the town of Yatta during the school year, were present in the village. Their parents said the children were frightened by the sight of masked soldiers fanning out among the houses of the village. The villagers were not given any explanation as to the nature of the operation.
The IDF conducted a similar operation last week in two of the four villages in the area that are not slated for demolition. Four soldiers arrived in Tuba and checked the identity papers of those present. On the same day, soldiers photographed the caves and tents in Magher al-Abeed – specifically the electricity system and solar panels that were installed there in the last year. Low-flying helicopters that hovered above the village frightened some residents. Once more, the soldiers gave no explanation for the operation.
In response to Monday’s raid on Jinba, Tamar Feldman, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said that Israel’s High Court of Justice issued an injunction in 2000 preventing the demolition and allowing the residents to continue living in the area and working their lands.
Over the years, the state pledged to not allow the military to train in the area. Shlomo Lecker, a lawyer representing the residents of Jinba, said that the raids on the village constitute a “heavy-handed violation of the injunction issued by Supreme Court President Aharon Barak in 2000."
The IDF Spokesman said in response that the army does not provide details on the operations it conducts.