Defense Minister Ehud Barak last week took a break from his urgent work on the Iranian crisis to heat up the relatively quiet eastern front as well. Barak told the High Court of Justice he had decided to demolish eight Palestinian villages in the southern Hebron Hills, in Area C, where some 1,500 people reside and make their living.
Barak said he had made the decision because it encompasses an area known as "Firing Zone 918," which is essential for Israel Defense Forces training. The state expressed concern that the residents would gather information about IDF methods and use them for terrorist purposes.
The declaration of Palestinian lands as "firing zones" was used during the era of military government over areas in Israel as a common method to take over tens of thousands of dunams of land belonging to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to confine them to a smaller region. With the conquest of the territories in 1967, the new military government that was established there also adopted the method.
Over the years, a system of "special security zones" developed. Palestinian entry can be restricted to lands that they own in these zones, which are located near settlements or along roads used by settlers.
The state prosecution claims, based on testimony by anonymous collaborators, that most of the residents in the villages slated to be razed have permanent dwellings in the town of Yatta. As a result they are not entitled to protection from eviction, which only applies to "permanent residents." This position is well reflected in the distorted view that Area C, which constitutes about 60 percent of the West Bank, is the natural living space of the settlers.
While the state fosters the settlements and avoids evacuating the outposts - including some established on privately-owned Palestinian land - it is miserly when it comes to issuing master plans and building permits for Palestinians under its aegis. The authorities even harass international organizations and human rights groups that finance basic infrastructure, schools and clinics.
According to international law, the land under contention in the Hebron Hills - like all the land in the West Bank - is occupied land. The eviction of hundreds of farmers and shepherds using the pretext of "firing zones" is pyromania.
The defense minister must prevent the Hebron Hills from being set on fire, and act fairly toward all Palestinian residents under Israel's authority.