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Israeli forces order evacuation of 9 families in Jordan Valley for military exercises

Nov. 12, 2016 11:06 A.M. (Updated: Nov. 13, 2016 3:39 P.M.)
TUBAS (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces Saturday ordered nine families in the Khirbet al-Ras al-Ahmar area in the occupied West Bank district of Tubas in the Jordan Valley to evacuate their homes Sunday and Monday for the Israeli army to carry out military drills in the area.

Arif Daraghmah, a researcher on Israeli violations and settlements, said that Israeli forces informed the nine families they needed to leave their homes on Sunday from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m., and on Monday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Those ordered to their homes were identified as the families of Ali Khadir Bani Odeh, Ali Izzat Bani Odeh, Abed Hussein Bisharat, Jamil Bani Odeh, Sulayman Bani Odeh, Rashid Bisharat, Thaer Bisharat, Saqir Bani Odeh, and Afu Badi Odeh.

Less than two weeks ago, many of the same families were issued temporary evacuation notices for the same purpose, and were forced by Israeli soldiers to leave their homes for more than 24 hours.

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 is one of the occupied West Bank's most important agricultural centers.

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), using data from the Palestine Ministry of Wall and Colonization Affairs, the group reported that 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 emphasized at the time the detrimental effects such trainings have on communities 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.

Just a month before, in April, over 3,000 dunams (741 acres) of crops and trees were destroyed after a fire broke out due to army drills in the area, Jordan Valley Solidarity (JVS) activists told Ma’an at the time.

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, JVS 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.

Jeff Halper, co-founder and director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, told Ma'an last year that since 1948, Israel has viewed the Jordan Valley as its "security border" and there is no possibility, even within the framework of a two-state solution, that it will revert back to Palestinians.

"The Jordan Valley is special in that it is seen as central to Israel's security and from that point of view its non negotiable. There has been a process of Judaization and it has largely been depopulated of Palestinians."

Halper said that before Israel's 1967 occupation, around 250,000 Palestinians lived in the Jordan Valley, a number that today only stands at 50,000, most of whom live in Jericho.

Mass house demolitions, settlement construction, and the establishment of Israeli agricultural production zones have essentially replaced the Palestinian population, with any remaining land declared as closed military areas.

"Military activities have always been a cover for displacement. Over time they will pass the land over to settlers. It's a layered process,"Halper said.

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, 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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