The decision by Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Central Command, to sign an order reducing the size of the military firing zone in the Jordan Valley in favor of expanding the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, once again raises the question of the supervision and oversight of the exploitation of these areas, as Chaim Levinson reported on Sunday.
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Firing zones are intended for the use of the IDF in its training and there is no disagreement about the necessity of allocating land for this purpose. But as past reports of the State Comptroller show, the oversight of the use of areas earmarked for firing zones has been unreasonably faulty.
Almost 80 percent of the territory of the State of Israel is under military and security restrictions, while on the West Bank Israel directly controls some 60 percent of the land; some is defined as state land and some, firing zones. The order from the head of the Central Command concerns Area 912, which borders the Jerusalem-Jericho road on its northern side, the Jordan Valley to the east, and the Hebron Hills on its southern side. In the Hebron Hills and the Judean Desert there are other broad areas allocated as military firing zones, which have already led to the evacuation of hundreds of Palestinian families from the eastern part of the Hebron Hills.
But firing zones, which over the years have turned into a political tool, through whose use territories have been transferred for building settlements or expanding them, are not holy lands. The firing zone under discussion is also intended for the expansion of the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. It is clear from this that the IDF — if it wants to — is capable of making do with a more limited area for its activities. Therefore it is possible to wonder how many other areas declared as firing zones are not anything but a future land reserve for building the settlements.
It would be possible to take seriously the claim of Col. Lior Shalev, the operations officer of the Central Command, who explained to a subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, that “one of the positive processes which can slip through our fingers is the return of firing zones to the place they are meant to be but are still not there.” In other words, to return to the control of the IDF.
But when the IDF removes Palestinian families and destroys their homes in order to prepare a “clean area” for building settlements in the same place, it strips its claims of all meaning. Moreover, the ease with which the IDF gives up areas it defines as essential in order to serve the construction of settlements, which are defined by international law as illegal, turns it into an active partner in carrying out a controversial policy.
The time has come for the State Comptroller to get to the heart of the matter of the firing zones, examine their necessity and the extent to which they are in use, and propose guidelines for them that will take into account the needs of Palestinian residents.