Palestinians from the West Bank village of Masafer Yatta have asked High Court of Justice to issue an interim injunction barring the Israeli military from continuing the training exercises that have been underway the past three weeks after a village home was struck by a bullet last Wednesday.
Residents of Masafer Yatta, a rural area in the South Hebron Hills comprising over a dozen Palestinian villages and hamlets – many of them slated for expulsion – said they found a large bullet lodged in the roof of the house the morning after it allegedly was hit. In response, the army said that “no evidence was found showing the building was hit by training fire.”
Court President Esther Hayut asked the state to respond to the lawsuit by 3:00 P.M. Tuesday.
According to the Palestinian petitioners, who are represented by attorneys Roni Pelli and Dan Yakir of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, late in the afternoon last Wednesday, Israeli forces conducted an exercise close to the village of Halat a-Dab’a, which is inside the live-fire zone. The bullet struck the roof of a house that was occupied at the time but no one was hurt, they said.
A picture of the damage done to the house was given to the army, which in turn sent soldiers to the site to question the residents. Pelli and Yakir said no attempt was made to find the bullet, but the next day, the residents found it lodged in the roof and asked the army to turn it over to the military police.
The residents received no response until they appealed to the High Court, at which time the army said that after investigating the matter it found no evidence showing the house had been hit by military training fire, “especially in light of the fact that the building stands outside shooting corridors.”
In addition, residents claim that as part of the training exercise the army brought in heavy equipment that damaged plowed farm fields. They also said the army had closed roads without notifying residents in advance, causing severe restrictions on travel in the area.
The army said in a letter in response that its troops had avoided causing damage to plowed fields, that it never entered the villages themselves and only blocked access to roads that passed through shooting corridors. It offered local residents alternative routes, it added in the letter.
The request for an interim injunction comes in the framework of a petition made by the residents to re-open an appeal against the expulsion of Masafer Yatta. In May, the High Court ruled that the residents of the eight villages located in the southeast of the West Bank, had not been living there when the area was originally declared Firing Zone 918. As a result, it said the army was free to evacuate them.
A month after the court decision, the army announced it would be conducting its first exercises in the area in more than 20 years, using live ammunition.
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In response, the attorneys representing the Palestinians sought a court order temporarily barring the exercises from taking place. However, the appeal was rejected after the justices accepted a military commitment not to evacuate residents from their homes and to avoid causing damage to their property. The court instructed the state to respond to the petition itself by August 2.
“During training exercises in Firing Zone 918 last week, a report was received claiming that the roof of a structure in the firing zone had been struck by a bullet,” the army said in a statement. “Immediately upon receiving the report, the exercise was suspended, and relevant officials made a comprehensive check of the claim. After the investigation was conducted, which included checking the site that was hit, not enough evidence was found to support that the building was hit by training fire, especially in light of the fact that the structure in question is outside the firing corridors. However, it was decided to adopt additional safety measures in order to continue training in the firing zone.”