Annexation in Disguise in South Hebron Hills

The rationale behind the expulsions and prohibitions on development in the South Hebron Hills is clear: to leave as much Palestinian-free land as possible to facilitate its annexation to Israel.

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The High Court of Justice is due to consider again the state’s demand to annul a 13-year-old temporary injunction granted to farmers of the South Hebron Hills and allowing the expulsion of some 1,300 Palestinians from their homes. The land is needed, the state explains, to allow the IDF to train in the area declared as Firing Zone 918.

For the past two decades the residents of the South Hebron Hills continued residing in natural and manmade caves and in old buildings, living off their herds and agriculture. At the end of 1999, while Israel and the Palestinians were negotiating peace, the IDF deported 700 residents from the 12 villages in the firing zone, demolishing many of the houses, including caves and water wells. The expulsion orders were given on the grounds of “illegal residence in a live fire zone.” The fact that these tiny villages were established as part of a 19th-century natural process, whereby farmers left the mother village of Yatta to look for new pastures and water resources, made no impression on the state’s position.

The residents’ legal battle led to a temporary injunction that returned them to their homes until the petitions were to be decided. Up to 2012, the state asked for 27 extensions, repeating the request each time the court demanded it explain its position. Meanwhile, the Palestinians continued to live on the land, but the Civil Administration banned all forms of development there, including construction, linking up to the water and electricity systems, putting up additional tents, digging for water wells or setting up a lavatory.

In May 2012, after a pause of several years, the IDF renewed its training exercises in the area. In July 2012, the state presented the position of the defense minister, Ehud Barak, who stated that the area was essential for the IDF’s training, and therefore the residents of eight of the 12 villages must leave their homes and be restricting in driving their herds and cultivating their lands to weekends and Jewish holidays. The four other villages, exempted from the deportation order, were all located next to illegal Israeli settlement outposts, whose homes “trickled” into the firing zone yet were not ordered evacuated.

The High Court of Justice hearing will deal specifically with the fate of the eight villages and the residents of the area, but this is only one example of the way the government, IDF and Civil Administration conduct themselves in some 60 percent of the land of the West Bank − Area C, which is under full Israeli military and civilian control.

The rationale behind the expulsions and prohibitions on development is clear: to leave as much Palestinian-free land as possible to facilitate its annexation to Israel. While this is most certainly part of Danny Danon and Naftali Bennett’s vision, it should cause grave concern in any citizen who still hopes for peaceful relations with the Palestinians.

The Palestinian community of Um al Heir, South Hebron Hills, West Bank.Credit: Mairav Zonszein

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