Israeli forces take over Jordan Valley in ‘Austere Challenge 2012’ military training
Steadfast resistance in the Jordan Valley despite show of military muscle
Since late October, major defense drills, including manoeuvres involving heavy tanks as well as air and missile training, have been taking place throughout the Jordan Valley as part of the joint US-Israeli exercise ‘Austere Challenge 2012,’ especially in the Valley’s northern areas illegally declared as ‘firing zones.’
Forcibly evicting Bedouin communities
As a consequence of the training, Palestinian communities throughout the Jordan Valley have to endure military activity at their door step, in their farming lands, where they graze their herds and across the entire Valley. Ceaseless military traffic including large tanks, planes and helicopters along with countless troops, jeep and trucks continue to move within reach of family homes. Whole hillsides, usually occupied by shepherds and their animals, have been transformed into temporary army camps to support the permanent Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) bases. Large areas have been bulldozed to create roads. Moreover, the normally peaceful soundscape of the Valley has been taken over by long-range shooting drills, detonations, testing of missiles and the resounding noise of infantry moving through Palestinians lands and helicopters and planes moving to and fro.
In particular, Palestinian Bedouin communities in the northern regions have been impacted beyond belief. Many families have been displaced temporarily, others permanently following IOF orders to evacuate their lands for the purpose of the training, with some orders extending as far as 31st December 2012 and oral instructions about the training happening indicating a length of six months until April 2013. The evacuation orders issued also threaten the confiscation of property and animals as well as fines to retrieve them, if the families do not comply.
Although many families have remained steadfast on their land, a number have sent children to live with other members of their families outside of the area, while others have sought out new dwelling places in the vicinity altogether. With the onset of the rainy season, however, families moving their belongings and animals, and rebuilding houses is arduous to say the least. Against the backdrop of preventing Bedouin communities living in Area C from access to water, electricity and basic amenities and denying them education and healthcare, this most recent attack is a blatant articulation of the wider Israeli plan to forcibly transfer the communities from the lands that they have been inhabiting, cultivating and nourishing for generations.
Surveying the impact
Between 6th and 13th November alone, the communities in Al Maleh, Ras al Ahmar, Khirbet Humsa, Khirbet Yarza and Ibziq witnessed large scale operations displacing many families for extended periods in the cold and rain and forcing hundreds to put up with large-scale military operations in their lands.
On 6th November, members of the community in Ras al Ahmar were given orders to evacuate the village area for the day time hours on 11th November, some for each day for three weeks thereafter. On 11th November, twenty families were escorted by the IOF from their lands at 6am, and spent the day watching military exercises, including the denotation of large explosives and testing of missiles, close to their homes from the neighbouring village Khirbet ‘Atuf before being permitted to return to Ras al Ahmar with nightfall.
On 7th November, the vast majority (thirty out of forty one) families in Al Maleh were given evacuation orders. Twice more, on 8th and 11th November, the IOF returned to issue the same instructions, requesting the community to leave the area and go at least beyond Tayasir, and not return. On 12th November, while extensive military training was taking place throughout the area of the community, families remained in their homes, uncertain what will happen next.
The training has also affected the community in Khirbet Yarza and their surrounding lands. On 11th November, foot soldiers came to the village with dogs and countless cars for occupation training. That and the following day, the roads to Tayasir, Al ‘Aqaba and Tubas were closed, virtually blocking all access to the village. Since then, the community has experienced a large military presence in the area. Even though members of the community were told, orally, to leave the area and informed that the training would continue for six months, all families remain in their lands and will continue to do so.
During the afternoon hours on 11th November, training took place in the Al Ibqe’a plain comprising the Bedouin community of Khirbet Humsa some of whom sought shelter in the nearby village of Al Hadidiya for the duration of the drill. Tens if not hundreds of heavy tanks crossed the area, a large plane landed and many helicopters controlled the airspace, reported residents.
On 12th and 13th November, training happened in the areas surrounding ‘Ein al Hilwa. However, no orders were given to the families who reported that the IOF camped very close to their homes, and fresh tracks lead into the surrounding hills only meters from where the house of the family of Ali Ahmad Bani Odh was demolished on 31st October.
Infringing international obligations
Indisputably, the IOF is using the joint US-Israeli military drill ‘Austere Challenge 2012’ as a justification to not only intimidate and harass but forcibly displace Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley – contrary to the Geneva Conventions.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the protection of civilians 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.” Clearly, forcible transfer is only justifiable in situations of hostility; and only for the duration of the hostilities after which the population has to be allowed to return to their place of origin.
IOF training needs cannot and do not justify forced transfers, and are unlawful if enforced.
The right of Palestinian communities to exist in their lands is paramount – every hour of displacement is in all respects unacceptable, a breach of the Israeli Military Authority’s international obligations and must therefore be accounted for.
Israeli colonisation project
Evidently, ‘Austere Challenge 2012’ or not, the Jordan Valley continues to serve as military training ground for the IOF.
Deplorably, military training, and its accompanying dangers and impact on the communities, is not out of the ordinary for Palestinians in the Jordan Valley. Military bases are located throughout the Jordan Valley and, in addition to periods of intensive training like ‘Austere Challenge 2012,’ regular training exercises take place close to community areas, wholly disregarding their existence. Needless to say, training in the vicinity to civilians is extremely dangerous, and there are many incidents where Palestinians have been injured or even died as a result of shooting exercises and mines left behind in their lands.
The assertion of military control and extensive use of the Jordan Valley for military purposes clearly demonstrates – coupled with manifold daily aggression against Palestinians in the Jordan Valley – the Israeli intention to seize every inch of Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley, depopulate the area at the same time and thereby prepare the land for annexation.
Irrespective, Palestinian communities’ determination to stay in their land cannot and will never be defied.
Note: This article summarises and updates the information collected by JVS volunteers throughout the duration of the ongoing US-Israeli military training, and in particular since 6th November 2012. Therefore, some material has previously been reported on this website. All preceding articles regarding the impact of ‘Austere Challenge 2012’ on the Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley have been linked in this article, but can also be accessed through the ‘News’ section of the JVS website: www.jordanvalleysolidarity.org/