Soldiers have been expelling Palestinian shepherds from firing zones in the Jordan Valley while allowing settlers to remain and even build in these areas, even though the settlers’ presence was never approved by the Israel Defense Forces.
This emerges from the response the IDF gave to the freedom of information request from attorney Eitay Mack. The request was submitted following several instances in which the ban on being in a West Bank firing zone, which is meant to be closed off for military training, was only enforced against Palestinians, with soldiers saying the settlers were there with IDF approval.
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Over the years, there have been several illegal outposts erected in the Jordan Valley, 45 percent of which was declared a firing zone. A few outposts encroach on the firing zone territory. One of the is Havat Uri, most of which is situated in the Umm Zuka nature reserve, with a least one structure located in Firing Zone 903.
In a video from November 2017, a soldier is seen telling a left-wing activist that Palestinians are forbidden to enter and graze their flocks in the firing zone adjacent to the outpost. When asked why settlers are permitted in the area, the soldier responded, “There’s a settlement there and that’s approved.” When asked if the settlers’ cows could graze in the area, the soldier replied, “In this area they are allowed, yes. It’s a section we have no interest in entering.”
In another instance, an IDF officer demanded that left-wing activist Guy Hirschfeld and a Palestinian who was with him leave Firing Zone 900. The officer, Capt. Tomer Albar, later testified that when he came to the area, he noticed a resident of Havat Tzuri riding his horse, but did nothing because he believed the settler had a permit to be in the firing zone. That outpost is also known as Shirat Ha’asavim and several of its buildings are situated in Firing Zone 900.
Mack sought to determine if there were any exceptions that allowed settlers to be present in firing zones, and was told that notwithstanding the remarks of the soldiers documented, no such permits had ever been issued.