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Israeli military drills displace hundreds in Jordan Valley


May 09, 2015
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [Jordan Valley] [military firing zone]

Hundreds of Palestinians have been forcibly displaced from their homes in the northern Jordan Valley this week, as the Israeli army conducts what local media has deemed to be unprecedented military drills around villages near Tubas. 

The military drills, which began last Sunday, have brought a large number of Israeli military vehicles into villages east and south of Tubas. The Jordan Valley Solidarity group estimates that hundreds of tanks, helicopters and heavy machinery have been moved into the area. 

The training exercises, which are taking place in one of Israel’s many closed military zones located in Area C, have displaced over 60 families according to solidarity activists in the area. 

Activists told Ma’an News Agency that, so far, 18 families have been displaced from the village of Khirbet Humsa, 30 families from Hammamat al-Maleh, five families from Fruth Beit Dajan and 13 families from Ibziq. 

Israeli military officials reportedly forced villagers from some of the farming communities in the area to sign papers one week ago obliging them to leave their homes from May 3 until May 7, while other communities in the al-Hadidya area have been put on standby to be evacuated, signaling the length of the military drills in the area is undetermined as of yet. 

Villagers told Ma’an that if they refuse to evacuate the area during the drills, the Israeli army will destroy their homes. 

“Either they leave or are forced to leave,” Sarah Cobham, a volunteer with JVS told Ma’an News Agency from the village of al-Hadidya. 

“When people have to leave their homes they are given no support, so all they can do is stay with other people they now in the area and find people to help look after their animals. There is no compensation,” she said. 

Cobham said that smoke, explosions and the sound of gunfire fill the area, and as tanks and military vehicles launch artillery fire in the area, the farming and herding based communities are left to worry about their crops and livestock left behind—the primary source of income for most families. 

Just last month, on April 28, more than 3,000 dunams of crops and trees in the area were destroyed after a fired broke out due to military drills. About a week later, on May 4, more than 5,000 dunams of land were burnt near al-Hadidya, again due to military training, solidarity activists reported. 

This week’s military drills reportedly involve over 50 tanks and heavy artillery fire. The troops have reportedly set up targets throughout the area, especially in the village of Bardala, for military aircrafts to bomb, and residents are expecting severe damage to crops and the natural landscape. 

Cobham, the solidarity activist, was in one of the villages that was forcibly evacuated at the beginning of the week. She said the atmosphere was “very, very tense,” and that families were “extremely angry” and worried about what will happen to the property. 

“It’s about the uncertainty in peoples’ lives. They don’t know how long the training is going on for, or if or when the road will be blocked, or when they can move. That’s a major party of the impact,” she said. 

“This military training right next to Palestinian homes is clearly part of the [Israeli] occupation’s attempts to pressurize (sic) people to leave their land.” 

Annexing the Jordan Valley

The Israeli military has long used the Jordan Valley for training exercises, but since 2012, they have been on a marked rise. According to activists working with the Jordan Valley Solidarity group, this type of military drills are just one of many tools used to forcibly displace rural Palestinian communities, and are a part of a larger, on-going process of annexation by Israel’s military of the valley. 

The Jordan Valley makes up about a third of the occupied West Bank, and 88% of its land has been labeled as Area C—meaning it falls under full Israeli security and administrative control. It has long been a strategic area of land for the Israelis, land that is very unlikely to return to Palestinian control. 

Co-funder and director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Jeff Halper, told Ma’an News Agency that ever since 1948, Israel has vied the Jordan Valley as its “security border.” Under this guise, he said, there is no chance, even within the framework of a two-state solution, that it would revert back to Palestinian control. 

“The Jodan 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 Judiazation and it has largely been de-populated of Palestinians,” Halper said. 

Before Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967, according to Halper, nearly 250,000 Palestinians lived in the Jordan Valley. Today, that number has been reduced to little more than 50,000, that majority of whom live in Jericho. 

According to a report by Ma’an News Agency, “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.”

Halper argues that Israeli military activity in the area has always been a cover for displacement. “Over time they will pass the land over to settlers. It’s a layered process.”

The unpredictability of training drills and army movements in the Jordan Valley leaves the local Palestinian community constantly anxious about future displacement, be it temporary or permanent. 

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Palestinians in the Jordan Valley are one of the groups most vulnerable to displacement. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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