GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon signed an order in January canceling the status of an army firing zone in the Jordan Valley, which will allow for the expansion of the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. However, the army continues to demolish Palestinian homes in the Jordan Valley claiming they are in firing zones.
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The area in question is called Firing Zone 912, which was declared a firing zone more than 40 years ago. It extends from Ma’aleh Adumim (east of Jerusalem) to the Dead Sea in the east and Umm Daraj in the south, and is still used by the Israel Defense Forces for training, particularly by the Armored Corps. There are a number of army bases in the area, including the Nabi Musa base.
On January 18, Alon signed an order reducing the size of the firing zone, which covers approximately 150 dunams (about 37 acres). There is a master plan for the area that earmarks it for the construction of dozens of housing units to expand Ma’aleh Adumim. Work has already begun in the area and a sign has been erected announcing the construction of 88 units in the area, called Nofei Adumim.
The army has been demolishing the homes of Palestinians and Bedouin in firing zones in recent years and does not issue permits allowing them to remain in the area, which it claims is still needed for training.
Last May, Haaretz reported remarks by Col. Einav Shalev, the Central Command’s operations officer – under whose aegis the firing zones fall – at a meeting of a subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Shalev said it was important to retain the firing zones at their full size, and that one of the main reasons the army trains in the Jordan Valley is because of the effect it has on “anyone who saw the last division exercise, with fighter jets, helicopters and tanks firing.” Shalev told the committee that the sight of armored battle vehicles and thousands of soldiers marching makes people “move aside.”
Shalev added: “There are places where we have thinned out the amount of training significantly, and small weeds have grown there. This is one of the reasons that we, as a military system, bring down much of the training to the Jordan Valley.”
Also last May, the IDF informed a number of Palestinian families in the firing zone, with whom it had been negotiating, that they had 48 hours to leave. In response to Haaretz’s report on the matter, the army had said, “Firing Zone 912 was declared a closed military zone by the authority of GOC Central Command and was marked as such. The declaration of the closed firing zone was done in 1967, and it is in effect to this day because the area is still used by the IDF for military needs. Over the past week, the army issued evacuation orders to a number of residents living in the firing zone, whose presence there is illegal because of the fact that this is a closed military zone and their presence there endangers their safety. It is noted that the residents were offered alternative land in a place close to the firing zone.”
Last December, Haaretz reported that the Civil Administration had surveyed state lands in firing zones near settlements, ahead of future settlement expansion. The Civil Administration said at the time, “Any attempt to present the data as if they contain a political, or other, motive to allocate them in the future for settlement is completely baseless.”
However, researcher Dror Etkes, who is involved in a study of “closed areas” in the West Bank, told Haaretz, “This is another example of the fiction known as firing zones, which cover almost 1 million dunams in the West Bank. Most of them are not used by the army but constitute land reserves, of which Israel is gradually making use when it suits.”