The Israeli military is planning to conduct a live-fire military exercise in the rural South Hebron Hills area of the West Bank next week, the first such exercise in over twenty years.
The IDF says Palestinians from Masafer Yatta will not have to be evacuated from their homes to accommodate the month-long drills, which will include light arms training.
Early in May, Israel's High Court of Justice issued its final decision in the decades-long case, rejecting the Masafer Yatta residents’ petition and approving the military's claims to the area, effectively allowing for the residents' deportation. On Sunday, the lawyers representing the Palestinians living inside the IDF-declared firing zone will submit an appeal for another hearing of the residents' petition.
Known locally as Masafer Yatta, the area was declared a firing zone, or a closed military training area, by the IDF in the early 1980s. In 1999, the military evicted the residents of the 14 Palestinian communities in the declared firing zone. Following petitions by residents, the High Court issued a temporary order allowing residents to return to their homes pending a final court decision, which was handed down in May.
The IDF last carried out a military exercise in Masafer Yatta in February 2021, though this did not involve live-fire. The drill involved hundreds of soldiers and about 60 vehicles, including armored personnel carriers, mobile artillery units, army vans and a Humvee, and caused damage to Palestinian property in the area.
Following a court appeal from the residents, the IDF pledged not to conduct any more exercises in the area until a verdict was reached on Masafer Yatta villages' fate.
On Thursday, Meretz Lawmaker Mossi Raz demanded from Defense Minister Benny Gantz to move the exercise to a different location. "A live-fire military drill will infringe on the residents' freedom of movement in their own farmlands," Raz wrote. "The last time the IDF conducted a drill in the area, water and electricity infrastructure were damaged."
According to the army's announcement, the drill will involve live-fire and tanks and will take place near seven villages. Palestinians living in the area were not given the exact location of the training area, nor were they told the hours it would be held. The IDF spokesperson noted that the residents "will be updated before every drill."
Last weekend, the army mapped the homes in several villages in the area and photographed residents' ID cards, despite announcing last year that it would end its practice of mapping villages except in exceptional circumstances.
The process of "intelligence mapping," as it is known in Israeli terminology, involves Israeli soldiers entering the homes of Palestinians overnight who are not suspected of any offenses, in order to register the home's occupants and describe the building.
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In response to Haaretz's inquiry, the IDF said that it surveyed the villages as part of an attempt to prevent illegal entry into Israel.