Israel Must End the Injustice in the Hebron Hills

The problem with home demolitions in the West Bank is greater than the structures that were razed, but the solution is simple.

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Palestinians sit among the rubble of their house, which was demolished by Israeli bulldozers, in the West Bank village of Jimba, southern Hebron February 2, 2016.
Palestinians sit among the rubble of their house, which was demolished by Israeli bulldozers, in the West Bank village of Jimba, southern Hebron February 2, 2016.Credit: Reuters

On Tuesday morning, the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria demolished 23 residential buildings and three outhouses in the Palestinian villages of Jinba and Halawa in the southeastern West Bank. They also confiscated five solar panels. The concrete structures that were thrown down housed dozens of people, most of them children.

Jinba and Halawa are two of the 12 villages in the regions whose residents have been conducting a legal battle against the state, which wants them to move to the area’s main city, Yatta, on the grounds that they are trespassing on an army firing range. Less than a day before the demolition, the state prosecution and the residents’ attorneys had told the High Court of Justice that the two-year attempt at mediation had failed.

Indeed, the simple structures that were demolished, like other buildings in the villages, were built without a permit from the Civil Administration, and building in a firing zone is a double violation. These were the grounds for the demolition. But the residents – farmers and shepherds – are not serial construction criminals. This is their home, and their families had lived in these villages decades before Israel occupied the West Bank and before the Israel Defense Forces in 1972 declared their 30 dunams (7.4 acres) to be a firing zone.

As with other Palestinian villages, these villages developed over the decades as offshoots of one central village (in this case, Yatta). Residents moved out of Yatta because of overcrowding, the need for land and water, and even inter-family feuds. The seasonal residence in these outposts gradually became permanent, although the residents maintained social and economic ties with the original community.

Upon occupying the West Bank, Israel put an immediate halt to this organic development. One way of doing this was to not include the offshoot villages in master plans (the basis for building permits) and dooming the residents to life without infrastructure or development. Another way was to declare military firing zones.

In November 1999, the IDF expelled 700 residents from the 12 villages, destroyed their homes and wells and confiscated property. A restraining order issued by the High Court allowed them to return, but not to rebuild. The cycle of building without permits and demolitions has continued since.

In 2012 the state once again demanded that residents of eight of the villages leave their homes so training exercises could be conducted in the area and suggested that the residents work their lands on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. The residents objected and continued to oppose the proposal made during the mediation, which called for them to leave their lands periodically to allow for training exercises.

The problem is greater than the structures that were demolished, but the solution is simple: Stop the declaration of firing zones, recognize the residents’ rights to their land, and advance master plans for the villages. Thus Israel could also allay the concerns of the Palestinians and the EU that it plans to annex Area C of the West Bank and forcibly expel its Palestinian residents.

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