Firing zones are areas in which the Israeli army carry out military exercises; they often use live ammunition, which poses a risk to the local Palestinian population.
Indirect and direct forcible transfer is currently at the forefront of Israel’s ideological agenda in area C. Firing zones, initially established as a means of land control, are now being used to create an environment so hostile that Palestinians are forced to leave the area or live in conditions of deteriorating security.
Pre-dating the creation of the state of Israel, there was an ideological agenda within certain political spheres predicated on the notion that Israel should exist from the sea to the Jordan River. Upon creation of the State the subsequent governments sought to establish this notion. This has resulted in an uncompromising programme of colonisation, ethnic cleansing and de-development in Palestine. The conclusion of the six day war in 1967 marked the beginning of the ongoing occupation, under which the full force of the ideological agenda has been extended into the West Bank. Israel has continuously led projects and policies designed to appropriate vast amounts of Palestinian land in the West Bank, despite such actions being illegal under international law. The Israeli agenda has shown itself as determined to undermine Palestinian sovereignty and territorial continuity, thus preventing the creation of an independent Palestinian state. In 1993, the Oslo I Accords dictated that control of the West Bank and Gaza was to be divided between the Palestinian National Administration and Israel. Thus, 61% of the West Bank, mainly the Jordan Valley, came to be categorised as area ‘C’ and fell under full Israeli civil and military control1 . Despite the agreement being suggested for a five year period during which time steps would be taken to grant Palestinian sovereignty, Israel has retained full control over these areas, cementing their wish to annex the Jordan Valley from the remainder of the West Bank and expel any remaining Palestinian citizens. As a result, the Palestinians living in area ‘C’ are facing an increasingly insecure future under precarious conditions.
Land acquisition has taken numerous forms, including the establishment of 137 Israeli recognised settlement blocs throughout the West Bank illegally housing 531,000 settlers . However, one of the most aggressive and damaging policies to emerge was that of appropriating land under Military Order 1651, Article 318, which stated that ‘A military commander is empowered to declare that an area or place are closed… for Israeli military usage’ . This led to the establishment of a number of closed firing and military zones throughout area C; including the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills. Firing zones are areas in which the Israeli army carries out military exercises and trainings; they often use live ammunition, despite the presence of the local Palestinian population.
Palestinian presence within these areas is prohibited without prior permission from Israeli authorities, despite there being 10 Israeli settlement outposts either fully or partially located within firing zone boundaries. Existing Palestinian presence in firing zones has been deemed illegal by the Israeli Authorities and is thus submitted to extensive policies aimed at inducing their indirect or direct forcible transfer. Military zones are classified as areas that the military have chosen to close for security purposes. Currently, 30% of the West Bank is a closed military zone, 18% of which is a firing zone4 in which military practises occur. Many firing zone boundaries lack boundary markings making it difficult for people to determine when they enter one. It has become clear that in recent years these zones are being exploited as a method to expel Palestinians whilst simultaneously protecting “illegal” settler communities. Dror Etkes, an Israeli expert on settlements, stated that Israeli Occupational Forces (IOF) confirmed this stance by stating they are the Israeli military’s number one method of enforcing expulsion in the West Bank.
The existing population within firing zones are largely small herding communities, some of who were forced to relocate to the Jordan Valley following their mass expulsion from the Negev. There are 38 small communities located within or alongside the assumed firing zone boundaries with a population of 6,2006 . Many of these communities pre-date 1967. Firing zone communities are characterised by dwindling livelihoods, high food insecurity, movement restrictions, high demolition and eviction rates and a lack of access to water. The majority have no choice but to frequently endure IOF live military exercises that occur metres away from their tents and military actions that have resulted in a significant increase in physical injury and death. The Israeli military’s failure to secure the perimeters of the zones has only served to increase this number of fatalities and casualties and further expose Palestinian residents to live ammunition and training remnants such as unexploded ordnance (UXO).