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Palestinians face losing their home on the (firing) range

About 1,500 Palestinians living in the South Hebron Hills will likely be uprooted to make way for an Israeli military firing range. 

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Hafez Houraini, who coordinates the Palestinian Popular Committee in South Hebron, says the demolitions and evacuations are an attempt to drive them out of Israeli-controlled Area C and into population centers in Palestinian-administered Areas A and B.

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“Palestinians in this area are struggling peasants,” Mr. Huraini says. “Israel wants to push them out of the area.”

When queried, the Israeli foreign ministry denied that the government has any such policy goal. 

'Here for generations'

The Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank says that the Supreme Court will most likely support the evacuation of firing zone 918 because it too considers Palestinians there illegal residents.

“The court told us to wait with the demolitions. Although the court has not ruled yet, we think that it will agree that these structures are illegal and continue to spread illegally,” Guy Inbar, spokesman of the Civil Administration, says.

But NGOs and residents point out that the villages existed prior to the beginning of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank in 1967 and that the area's “cave-dwellers” have practiced their traditional way of life for decades.

“These communities are there for generations and they have the right to a basic standard of living,” says Israeli attorney Tamar Feldman, director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel's (ACRI) human rights program for the Palestinian territories, which handled the resident’s legal cases. “But instead, the Israeli army uses this territory as a firing zone, although it is occupied territory.”

The Israeli Defense Ministry has said it would allow the communities to continue to graze their sheep and cultivate their land in the firing zone on Jewish holidays and weekends, when the military does not train. 

But the Palestinian residents say that nearby Yatta, the poor and crowded town of 50,000 that is the most logical place to relocate, does not have what they need to make a living. 

“We have 3,500 sheep in Jinba. What should I do with these animals in a city?” Jabareen says. “There is no space in Yatta.”

In addition to the eight villages slated for evacuation, there are four inside the firing zone which are not set for complete evacuation yet. However, they also face demolition orders for structures built without permits, which is many of the buildings in their villages, and say that their traditional way of life is threatened.

“This land here is our place, this is where we have freedom,” says Rasmiyye Hamamne, a woman from Mufaqara, one of the villages in the firing zone not slated for evacuation. Her husband, Na’man, says that this family has lived in a cave for generations. “My grandfather lived here, and his grandfather lived here. We will stay here as well.”

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