The ongoing US-Israeli military training ‘Austere Challenge’ provides a convenient pretext to displace Palestinian communities in Area C across the northern Jordan Valley, denying the communities their fundamental rights to human dignity and peaceful pursuance of their lives and livelihoods on their land.
This sexualised photo from Austere Challenge, distributed by the Israeli army, hides the reality of the joint U.S.-Israeli military exercise: displacing Palestinians (Photo: IDF Flickr)
In the early afternoon of 8 November 2012, the Israeli Offence Force (IOF) returned to Al Maleh. They instructed the community to leave the area of the village for one day, by 9am on Sunday, 11th November, so that military training could take place. People were told to either go beyond Tayasir checkpoint or towards ‘Ein al Hilwa. Moreover, people were threatened that their houses would be demolished and their animals confiscated if they didn’t leave.
JVS volunteers spoke to Kazim Hussain Kazim Daraghme, resident of Al Maleh, who expressed worries and concerns about whether or not this means his family will be displaced temporarily or forever, what would happen to their home and belongings, and if they will be demolished or not. He also explained that because of this intimidation campaign, he had sent his children to live with other family members in Tubas, a separation which is very difficult for the family.
Following the IOF instructions the previous day, when over thirty families in the community of forty households were issued with demolition orders, some families had started to move to an area at the edge of the village by the old Ottoman hotel. Three families had set up their houses in the area but were told by the IOF they had to move further. Many members of the community have vouched to stay in their homes, but are scared and uncertain about what will happen in the coming days.
Jordan Valley as military training ground
Targeted attacks to transfer Palestinians out of Area C, like in Al Maleh, are affecting communities all throughout the northern Jordan Valley.
In the last few days, evacuation orders have also been given to the communities in Ibziq, Khirbet Humsa, Ras al Ahmar, Khirbet Yarza, Al Maleh, Al Borj. They have been told to leave their homes and land from 10am to 5.30pm on Sunday 11th November, effectively displacing hundreds of people. However, members of each community have made it very clear that they will stay in their land.
Throughout 10th November, flying checkpoints were be set up. For example, 300m south of Hamra checkpoint. On 11thNovember, more checkpoints will control access to the area and seal it off in its entirety. This, of course, leaves communities vulnerable and without support and makes it impossible to monitor and report on the unlawful actions of the IOF.
Palestinian lands throughout the Jordan Valley have been designated as ‘firing zones’ and thus serve as military training grounds for the IOF, wholly disregarding their existence in the land that they have inhabited for generations. In addition to daily military presence in the Jordan Valley, periods of intensive military training mean that communities have to endure continuous military traffic, including large military vehicle, tanks and planes as well as temporary camps and the use of live ammunition close to their homes.
Breaches of international law
Evidently, the ongoing joint US-Israeli military drill ‘Austere Challenge’ serves as a justification to forcibly transfer Palestinian communities out of area C and accomplish the Israeli colonisation project to depopulate and annex the Jordan Valley.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that the forcible transfer of populations from occupied territory is prohibited, unless an evacuation is necessary to ensure “the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand.” Thus, forcible transfer is only justifiable in situations of hostility; and only for the duration of the hostilities after which the population have to be allowed to return to where they came from. IOF training needs cannot and do not justify forced transfers, and are unlawful if enforced.
According to Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “[a]ny destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.” As such, military training does not qualify as a ‘military operation,’ nor is it ‘absolutely necessary’ to conduct the training in the first place, and to carry it out at this particular location. Clearly, the destruction of any property is therefore unlawful.