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Israel orders evacuation of 15 families in Jordan Valley for military exercises

Dec. 20, 2016 12:41 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 21, 2016 11:34 A.M.)
TUBAS (Ma'an) -- More than a dozen Palestinian Bedouin families were delivered evacuation warrants by Israeli authorities on Monday, ordering them to temporarily leave their homes for Israeli military drills.

Muataz Bisharat, Palestinian official who monitors settler activities in the Jordan Valley, told Ma'an that 85 people from 15 different families in Khirbet Ibziq north of Tubas in the northern Jordan Valley would have to evacuate.

He said the Israeli Civil Administration delivered the written warrants, which ordered the families to vacate on Tuesday and Wednesday between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. due to the Israeli military drills.

Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley regularly face evacuations and interruption due to Israeli military exercises on or near their land. The district of Tubas, meanwhile, is one of the occupied West Bank's most important agricultural centers.

Last month, Israeli forces ordered nine families in the Khirbet al-Ras al-Ahmar village in Tubas to evacuate their homes for two days in order for the Israeli army to carry out military drills in the area. Less than two weeks prior, many of the same families were issued temporary evacuation notices for the same purpose.

The majority of the Jordan Valley is under full Israeli military control, despite being within the West Bank. Meanwhile, at least 44 percent of the total land in the Jordan Valley has been reappropriated by Israeli forces for military purposes and training exercises.

According to the Palestinian nonprofit the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ), more than 400,000 dunams (98,842 acres) of the 720,000 dunams (177,916 acres) that make up the total area of the Jordan Valley has been transformed into closed military and firing zones, with at least 27,000 dunams (6,672 acres) confiscated for illegal Israeli settlement building.

Israeli nonprofit Kerem Navot in a report released last year showed that more than 1.8 million dunams of land (436,141 acres), almost one-third of the entire area of the West Bank, and more than half of Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control -- have been declared closed military areas.

In May last year, hundreds of Palestinians were temporarily displaced as hundreds of tanks, helicopters, and heavy machinery moved into the area for conducting military exercises.

At the time, Israeli military officials forced some of the farming communities to sign papers one week earlier obliging them to leave their homes from May 3 until May 7, while other communities were put on standby to be evacuated.

Villagers said at the time that if they refused to leave during the drills, the Israeli army would simply destroy their homes.

The Israeli rights group B'Tselem has emphasized the detrimental effects such trainings have on communities that are dependent on farming and shepherding. "B’Tselem’s research has found that over the course of the military maneuver, ten sheep and goats died in the evacuated communities. In addition, ammunition remnants from the military training caused fires."

"Reports from the local councils of the Jordan Valley communities stated that dozens of hectares of pasture and cultivated agricultural land went up in flames. The maneuvers also included troops crossing farmland, and cultivated plots in Ibziq and al-Ras al-Ahmar were trampled," the group added.

Israeli military training exercises in the Jordan Valley have increased dramatically since 2012 and are one of many tools used to forcibly displace rural Palestinian communities, NGO Jordan Valley Solidarity says, part of a historic process of creeping annexation of the valley by Israel's military.

Forming a third of the occupied West Bank and with 88 percent of its land classified as Area C, the Jordan Valley has long been a strategic area of land unlikely to return to Palestinians following Israel's occupation in 1967.

The unpredictability of the training drills leaves rural Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley anxious about when they will be displaced, and whether the next time will be permanent.

However, Israeli NGO Kerem Navot has found that 78 percent of the total area declared as closed military or firing zones in the West Bank were not actually being used for military trainings, leading rights groups to conclude the land has been confiscated for ulterior reasons, most likely Israeli settlement expansion throughout Area C.

According to Kerem Navot, the rest of the area is divided almost equally between areas used frequently for military trainings and those that infrequently see military exercises being conducted on their lands.

Palestinians in the Jordan Valley are one of the most vulnerable groups to displacement, with over 60 percent of the 6,000 Palestinians forcibly displaced since 2008 belonged to herding or Bedouin communities, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
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