Firing Zone 918 - An Exercise in War Crimes
In the early 1980s, Israel declared an area of about 3,000 hectares in the South Hebron Hills known as Masafer Yatta a restricted military zone and dubbed it ‘Firing Zone 918’. Dozens of Palestinian families had been living in the area for years, since before Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967. They lived in 12 small villages, in natural or man-made caves, some all year round and others only seasonally, and earned a living as farmers and shepherds.
In 1999, the military expelled all 700 or so residents of these communities on the official grounds that they were “illegally living in a firing zone”. In response, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Attorney Shlomo Lecker filed a petition to Israel’s High Court of Justice on behalf of 200 families. The Court issued an interim injunction permitting the villagers to return to their homes and cultivate their land pending a ruling in the case, yet forbade them from new construction. New petitions have since been filed and the state has updated its position, yet the interim injunction remains in place. This has left the residents’ lives on hold for 20 years, as they are barred from any development, including building homes and essential public structures or connecting to power or water networks. Since 2006, Israeli authorities have demolished 64 homes in these communities, in which 346 people, including 155 minors, lived.
The High Court of Justice chooses to overlook the goal of Israel’s policy: forcible transfer of these residents, which constitutes a war crime under international law. If the residents do leave their homes, the judges will bear personal liability for the commission of this crime.