Firing Zone 918 and why the Increased Violence in South Hebron Hills NOW?
Not only is the news replete with an intensity and frequency of violence in the South Hebron Hills region that has not been seen for a long time, but all of it is being blamed on the settlers. Gantz has joined the left-leaning media in the blame-game, seemingly accepting news reports without even calling for investigations. I have shown how easy it is to incite against the Jews and then blame them for the violence when they defend themselves, here, here, here, here and here. And this is just the start of MY investigations — me, with my lack of journalism experience and the lack of resources available to the government, the security forces, and traditional news outlets.
From my growing acquaintance with the situation I can tell you that the general public doesn’t know even a tenth of what goes on in Judea and Samaria. The question is: Why the increased violence NOW? The answer is related to the military zone called Firing Zone 918 or Area 918.
B’Tselem activist Basel Adra gives us a hint about what is going on in his tweet:
Declaring our community’s as a fairing zone area for the occupation army Politically, is another mechanism by which we as a Palestinians are being evicted from the areas labeled by Israel as “area C”. But , This will not work. We will stay and live and love on this land. https://t.co/sissWWbeJY
— Basel Adra (@basel_adra) November 9, 2021
Of course, there is a typing error here, he meant “firing” zone. And Area C was not labeled by Israel but by the team that put together the joint agreement Arafat signed on behalf of the Palestinians, a contract known as the Oslo Accords.
OK. So Adra says the Arabs will stay on the land. But still, why the increased tensions now? After all, this is a long-standing issue. Why exactly NOW? I heard that there is an ongoing court case with the Israeli Supreme Court (SC) in which a verdict is expected at the start of the new year. That led me to explore the Supreme Court website to see what I could find.
I discovered one particular case pending, the next session to be on 12 January 2022 apparently postponed from this month.If this case is behind the violence, then we are likely to see the anti-Israeli hostilities and incitement continue and perhaps even escalate yet more, well into January. Only the rains may hold them back from carrying out all their plans. But what is this case and why is it so important?
The file was opened with the SC in March 2021 following a December 2020 decision in the Jerusalem District Court denying a request to prevent the tearing down of a structure built by Mahmoud Ibrahim Ali Ibn Sabakha because it is found in Firing Zone 918. You can read the last court protocol from 1.7.2021 in Hebrew by searching the SC site for file number 2070/21.
I wondered if this one case can explain all the violence of late. I put the question to Michal Frankel, Spokeswoman for the Hebron Hills Regional Council. She answered:
There are 12 villages on 30K dunams in Area 918. Peace Now and other leftwing organizations do not want the evacuation of these 12 villages — villages that have been growing over the past 30 years. Therefore, they are engaged in multiple provocations in order to achieve the delegitimization of the settlers living in that area, trying to establish a kind of symmetry: why them [the Jews] and us no [the Arabs] when they [the Jews] are the ones who are violent and who are causing all the trouble? I also understand that this case can serve as a precedent for overturning designations of military firing/training zones and promoting legalization and acquisition of citizenship for those currently living there illegally.
On the evening of 10 November, after the vicious altercation that took place near Mitzpe Yair that day, Hebron Hills Regional Council Head Yochai Damri uploaded a post explaining the issues surounding Area 918. See below the Facebook post for my translation of his Hebrew into English (edited for ease of reading).
On the eastern slopes of the south Hebron Hills, there are 30,000 dunams that are defined as Firing Zone 918. These lands [have always] served as grazing lands for shepherds from Yatta [a nearby village]. And in the past, just like all shepherds, they would come to the edge of the desert region during the winter months when the desert is green. They would live in the caves extant in the area and shepherd their flocks. At the end of the cold season, they would return to their permanent homes in Yatta.
At the beginning of the 1980s, the IDF designated this region as a firing zone. Since then, there has been a massive increase in Palestinian settlement and construction in this region. The increase is so obvious that the entire region has been labeled “Masafer Yatta”, meaning the “suburbs” of Yatta.
On the maps and aerial photographs of the Firing Zone one can clearly see the expansion of existing villages/outposts and the establishment of new ones, villages that were nonexistent when the land was originally declared a military zone. [emphasis mine]
Firing Zone 918 is part of the dramatic buffer between the hills and the desert, between Yatta and Hebron and the Bedouin villages in the Negev. This region has been split by a[n illegally built dirt] road for the smuggling of weapons, drugs, and stolen goods.
In 2009, the Fayyad Plan entered the equation. Fayyad, who was the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, called for increased expansion of construction across all of Judea and Samaria, including Area C, with the hope of creating a future Palestinian state on these lands. It is important to understand that this illegal Arab construction in the region is supported by funds provided by the European Union and encouraged by extreme leftwing NGOs who want to whip up chaos in the region.
At the beginning of the 2000s, the Supreme Court was petitioned to determine the future of Firing Zone 918. The Court was supposed to reach a decision whether or not to evacuate the villages or to cancel the classification of the region as a military zone and legalize the ad hoc building there.
The SC issued a temporary order forbidding the evacuation of village residents but has not yet reached a final decision in the matter. [It has also forbidden continued construction on the part of the residents.]Recently, we are witness to a multitude of frictions around Zone 918, almost on a daily basis. The goal of the friction is delegitimize the settlers and their communities, to present the Palestinian invaders as a persecuted and humiliated minority, in order to influence the SC judgement that was supposed to have been made at the end of this month. If the judgement will turn out in favour of the Palestinian invaders, we will find outselves in a nightmarish situation.
Damri remarked that under current conditions, the whole region resembles the old American “Wild West”.
The Appeal in the Supreme Court
The case that was brought before the Jerusalem District Court requested cancellation of the order first issued in 2016 to demolish a family house and goat enclosure and legalize the structure post hoc. This would require changing the classification of the land on which it sits — from a military firing/training zone to one that allows residential construction. Working their way through the Jerualem court, they exhausted all appeals by December 2020 without satisfaction to the peitioners. Therefore, they brought their case to the Supreme Court in March 2021.
This would be as if a group of families decided that they needed to settle on state land already designated for nonresidential use. Let us say, for example, that some families felt the needed to be on land already zoned as a national park in the USA, Mexico, the UK, anywhere else. They set up houses and started to farm the land, including raising sheep and goats. Of course, there would be no infrastructure provided by the state — no access roads added, no electricity, water pipes, sewage or garbage collection. Nothing. But these families felt it was their right to be there and even made a plea on gofundme or some other social media avenue requesting the empathic support of unrelated people who would then bring their poverty stricken families water containers and perhaps generators.
It would not take long before the government, without much ceremony, went in and bulldozed the entire thing. The newspapers would report on this, but it would usually be with ridicule at the families who believed they could inspire support from anyone but local anarchists. I doubt that an any court, neither a district court nor the supreme would even agree to consider hearing such a case.
Changing zoning is a long complex process that requires legal appeals and not illegal construction. After all, I remember a time when the mayor of Haifa enforced zoning laws by compelling the opening up of balconies on privately owned apartments in high-rise buildings for which there were no construction permits for enclosing the balconies (thereby increasing the size of the apartments). Council members encountered a lot of shouting and screaming and abuse but the law was upheld. Apartment owners in Tel Aviv have been sued for sub-dividing their apartments within the apartment itself while not affecting external appearance; they earn more rent by renting out to multiple tenants but this changes the zoning laws regarding population density. The apartment owners had to revert the apartments back to their original condition. There is no way that such cases would make it to the Supreme Court of Israel.
What seems so clear and incontrovertible within the armistice lines is challenged so cynically in Judea-Samaria. As Damri says — it’s a Wild West where lawfulness is apparently only a little-used word in the dictionary.
FIring Zone 918 and the Case in Court
Reading from the court protocol, we find that the Jerusalem court agreed with the contention that land on which the house was built is within Firing Zone 918 and, as such, requires IDF permission to build there. Of course, it is unlikely a construction license was sought because it would certainly have been rejected. (If you do not ask, you cannot get “no” for an answer.) Furthermore, the land is the site of archaeological ruins and all archaeological sites must be examined first by an archaeological team before permission to build is given. This is true across the entire country, as road and building construction crews know well.
In addition, the site is far from any other residential centers. In fact, there is a master plan for future construction nearby that has not been carried out. In short, the Jerusalem District Court decision was that there is no justification for this site to have been built upon.The petitioners were not happy with this and they appealed. Their appeal was denied in December 2020 and they were charged 5000 NIS for court costs.
The peitioner brought the appeal to the SC and asked for the demolition order to be postponed saying the demolition will cause great hardship for the family. The petitioner further argued that no harm will be done to the state while waiting for the SC to bring down a decision but demolition of the house is irreversible. The court allowed staying the demolition order and attached to it the obligation to desist from adding anything to the current construction. This is a demand that has frequently been violated by Arabs appealing demolition orders while their cases are before the court.
The argument that demolition will render the family homeless did not help the residents of Givat Amal and other places in the country where expropriation of land was carried out for development purposes or to construct new roads the government deemed important.
What I found most damning of the highest court in our land is the statement within the protocol that the petitioners openly declared their confidence that the court will decide in their favour. I do not know why they feel that way, because, after all, the SC did rule that Khan al-Ahmar had to be taken down and that was far larger than this one family home and animal enclosure. However, the Khan al-Ahmar case shows us that even if the court rules in favour of demolition of illegal structures, the Civil Administration does not rush to carry it out.
That is not a good-enough outcome, however, for the petitioners in this case, as they are setting out to claim the land of Firing Zone 918 as their own by using the Israeli legal system against itself. Hence the increased violence. And with an Israeli media predisposed against the “settlers”, they have already succeeded in getting our own Defence Minister to swallow their lies hook, line, and sinker.
Feature Image Credit: screenshot from video provided to me showing approach of Arabs toward Havat Maon on 28 September 2021.