On January 2, around 1,000 Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley were forced to leave their homes due to Israeli military training. The evacuation orders were distributed several days before the training was due to take place.
The order stated that the residents would have to vacate their land for around 24 hours while the military exercise is carried out. If they refused to leave the IDF declared that the villagers would face penalties.
This is one of the largest mass evacuations to have occurred in the West Bank throughout the past year. The villages affected include Wadi Al-Maleh, Ein Hilwah, Wadi al-Faw, al-Maita, al-Bur and several other communities in the surrounding area.
Masses of military vehicles and troops could be seen throughout the firing zone in the Jordan Valley during the operation. Lines of tanks and troop carriers awaited action as hundreds of troops gathered around camp areas ready for the exercise.
At the same time dozens of families began packing belongings onto trailers and assembling themselves ready to unwillingly spend a day away from their homes.
“Tonight we are sleeping under the sky,” Ibrahim Daragmeh says. “We leave at six o’clock; it is forbidden for us to stay longer. And tomorrow at two o’clock we can return.”
For almost a day, around 75 families are forced away from their homes. Many without shelter throughout the cold winter’s night.
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Some families were not ordered to move far from their homes. In Wadi Al-Maleh, the families only had to move around 200 metres, to a field east of the village.
All of the affected villages are situated within what is known as the “Firing Zone.” The firing zone is a closed military area, meaning all construction is prohibited. The Palestinian villages situated in this area are considered illegal by Israeli authorities.
During the 1970s, many closed military areas were designated and now encompass around 18% of the West Bank. The majority of these zones reside within the Jordan Valley, enveloping around 3,400 people.
Many communities situated within this land lack basic amenities such as a water and electricity supply, and on a regular basis suffer from house demolitions and evictions by the Israeli authorities.
Due to the restrictive nature of this closed military zone, there are few schools and health clinics in the area. Children from the villages have to travel long distances to reach their school. Several of the schools currently have demolition orders against them.
These Palestinian communities are not the only ones that inhabit the firing zone of the Jordan Valley; many settlement outposts have been established in the area. None of these communities possess the same restrictions as imposed on the Palestinian villages.
Alongside constant evictions in the area, many of the Palestinian communities have been similarly evacuated for military training in the past couple of months. “Austere Challenge” was a joint exercise between Israeli and American forces in November. During the two days of this exercise hundreds of Palestinians were administered orders to vacate their properties.