On Sunday, when the smell of scorched meat from Israel Independence Day celebrations still loomed, again our armed boys showed up in Khirbet Humsa, a community of shepherds in the northeastern Jordan Valley. They needed to ensure that several dozen people in four compounds of the Palestinian community will obey orders to willingly expel themselves to clear room for Israel Defense Forces training exercises.
And no, don’t worry, nothing bad will befall the Jewish residents of the settlements of Roi and Beka’ot, which were built nearby, northwest of Humsa, and in violation of international law. The Jews are not required to evacuate their private homes for the sake of military training exercises.
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The hand of fate, lacking any malicious intent, has determined that only Palestinians live, graze their flocks and eke out a living in firing zones. And therefore they are the only ones who have to pack up their meager belongings, their sheep and goats, their children and their water containers (because Israel doesn’t allow them to have connected water infrastructure) and leave. To where? That’s their problem.
On May 7, the eve of Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers, Yigal, a coordinator in the central supervision unit of the Civil Administration, showed up in Humsa with a military order entitled: “A warning regarding the obligation to evacuate a closed military area.” At 9 A.M. Yigal gave the order to Y. Abu al-Kabash and had him sign it. At 9:25 A.M. he had N. Abu al-Kabash sign and at 9:40 A.M. he reached A. Awawdeh and informed him as well about the voluntary forced temporary exodus.
The order was accompanied by an orderly timetable in what is called “Firing Zone 903” for four weeks, four days a week. The firing was expected to begin on Sunday at 2 P.M. and to end on Monday at 10 A.M. It will be renewed on Monday at 4 P.M. and end on Tuesday at 10 A.M. On Wednesday May 15, the firing will begin at 7 A.M. and continue until 2 P.M. The firing practice will also take place according to the same schedule in the three following weeks.
This is not the first time that the residents of Humsa are being required to evacuate their homes for the training exercises. In 2015 they were expelled 19 times. In May 2016, 19 residents were ordered to evacuate their homes for three days. Between September and December 2016, families from the community were required to evacuate their homes eight different times. In 2018 the temporary expulsion was implemented five times. Although they return each time, some of them are exhausted and abandon their homes for good. The period of training this time will exhaust the residents and force them to abandon their homes for an entire month. During Ramadan of all times, and in scorching heat.
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Attorney Roni Pelli, from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, discussed the upcoming attrition activity: “After Haaretz revealed that during a Knesset discussion the army representative said outright that the IDF uses training exercises in order to embitter the lives of residents of the Jordan Valley, the army is breaking another record. Frequent evacuations of several days each week during the month of Ramadan, most of them including a nighttime evacuation.
“This is harassment for its own sake. There is no justification for evacuating residents for the sake of military exercises and this practice is in violation of the international law that applies in the region. We call on the army to reverse its decision to evacuate the families, including dozens of children, and during the month of Ramadan of all times.”
Pelli is referring to the words of Col. Einav Shalev, who served as the Central Command’s operations officer. He was called to speak in a closed meeting of the subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which took place in April 2014, and as usual discussed ways of expelling more Palestinians from Area C (under full Israeli civilian and security control). Attorney Bezalel Smotrich, at the time neither an MK nor a designated minister, participated in the meeting due to his previous job as the director of the settlers' group Regavim, which is crusading crusade against Palestinian presence in Area C.
“I think that one of the good moves that could slip through our fingers is returning the firing zones to the place where they’re supposed to be, and they’re still not there. That’s one of the main reasons that we as a military establishment are bringing many of the training exercises to the Jordan Valley. In other words, anyone who looks at the most recent division exercise with warplanes, helicopters and tanks that fire etc., I’m trying to go back decades and I don’t recall that. We’re now bringing another division exercise to this area,” Col. Einav Shalev said.
“This story of a battle over firing zones is more than this committee here and the excellent supervision work being done by Marco [Ben-Shabat, the head of the Civil Administration’s enforcement unit] together with us. I think that the movement of armored combat vehicles and vehicles etc. in this area, and thousands of soldiers who are walking and when the troops march, people move aside and I’m not making any distinction here between Jews and Palestinians, but I’m talking generally … There are such places, where we significantly reduced the amount of training exercises, couch grass grew there,” Col. Shalev added.
In ordinary Hebrew: If there are no training exercises, there are Palestinians, who are like weeds. If there are training exercises, the weeds are thinned out and that’s why the IDF is increasing the exercises in the service of the settlements and in the spirit of supreme commander Smotrich.