The Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed a new petition this morning (January 16, 2013) at the High Court of Justice against the State’s plans to expel some 1,000 Palestinians living in eight rural villages in Firing Zone 918 in the South Hebron Hills.
In response, the High Court issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the forced removal of the petitioners and their families from their homes in Firing Zone 918. The injunction will remain in place until the Court rules otherwise. In addition, Justice Salim Joubran gave the State 60 days to respond to the petition.
The petition was filed by Attorney Tamar Feldman, the head of ACRI’s Human Rights in the Occupied Territories Department, on behalf of 108 villagers. It asks the defense minister and the commander of Israel Defense Forces activities in the West Bank to explain why the forced transfer of the villagers from their homes cannot be prevented, as well as for an explanation as to why the closed military zone order around the area should not be lifted and their dwellings fully recognized.
The area designated by the IDF as “Firing Zone 918” is located in the South Hebron Hills near the town of Yatta. Spread over 30,000 dunams and home to some 1,300 people, it includes twelve Palestinian villages, or hamlets: Tuba, Mufaqara, Sfai, Majaz, Tabban, Fakheit, Megheir Al-Abeid, Halaweh, Mirkez, Jinba, Halat a-Dab’a and Sarura. Eight of these villages, with around 1,000 residents, currently face eviction. The villagers maintain a unique way of life, with many living in or beside caves, and relying on farming and husbandry of sheep and goats for their livelihood. Most of them were born and raised in these villages to families that have been living in the area for several decades – long before 1967.
In August and November 1999 the majority of the inhabitants of the twelve hamlets were served with immediate evacuation orders due to their “illegal dwelling in a fire zone”. In late 1999, security forces arrived and evacuated over 700 residents by force. The IDF destroyed homes and cisterns and confiscated property. The villagers, dispossessed of their lands and their livelihoods, were left homeless.
In an affidavit taken by ACRI, Petitioner Number 10, Badwi Mohammed Gabar Dababsa recalled how one night, around midnight, IDF soldiers came and forcibly removed everyone in his village of Halat a-Dab’a. They were loaded onto trucks and left in the area of a-Twana. He himself fled the village on foot and spent three days in the hills. When he returned to his village, he found complete devastation. Trees had been uprooted, tents torn down, pens demolished and the flocks had escaped. The inside of the caves that served as homes for the villagers had been ransacked, and all belongings and furniture broken. The event traumatized the family, who also had to deal with the severe financial losses.
Following these evictions, two petitions were filed at the High Court by ACRI and by Attorney Shlomo Lecker. In 2000, the court issued an interim injunction. Mediation between the state and the villagers failed in 2005; and the case essentially lay dormant until last year. High Court Justice Uzi Fogelman decided to hold a preliminary hearing on the petitions regarding the 12 Palestinian villages, and the State announced in July 2012 that residents of four of the 12 villages will be able to continue to live in the area. The State agreed to withhold use of live ammunition for training in the areas around these villages. The Defense Ministry, however, insists that it is necessary to evacuate the other eight villages and displace hundreds of residents. In August, the court dismissed the petitions, but left in place the interim order allowing the residents to continue to live in the area and cultivate their land and allowed the petitioners to submit a new petition.
Attorney Feldman commented today after filing the petition: “It is inconceivable that 1,000 people should be evicted for the sake of military exercises. These evictions, which are tantamount to forced displacement, deny the villagers their livelihood and seize the property of people whose very existence depends upon the land they cultivate. Not only is this an extreme violation of international law, but it is tantamount to extreme cruelty.”
The petition includes an expert legal opinion by Israeli experts on international law Eyal Benvenisti, David Kretzmer and Yuval Shany, along with a legal analysis by international expert Professor Michael Bothe, and an expert opinion by leading social anthropologist Shuli Hartman from BIMKOM – Planners for Planning Rights.
- Fact sheet on the 12 villages of Firing Zone 918.
- Legal opinion (PDF) by Professor Michael Bothe.
- Full text of the ACRI petition (Hebrew).
- Summary of the ACRI petition (English).
- Expert legal opinion by Benvenisti, Kretzmer and Shany (translation supported by Diakonia).
- Anthropological expert opinion by Shuli Hartman (unofficial English translation).