Israel admits live fire used to drive Palestinians from land

The revelation is a rare official acknowledgement of a measure that critics have long decried.

A senior Israeli commander has admitted that training exercises in the occupied West Bank involve live fire and are used to drive local Palestinian residents off their land.

Colonel Einav Shalev, an operations officer in the military’s central command, admitted using the tactic during a subcommittee meeting of Israel’s parliament, last month.

The revelation is a rare official acknowledgement of a measure that critics have long decried as part of a concerted policy by Israeli authorities to force Palestinians to leave their land.

The comments come as US-sponsored peace talks collapsed last month in large part because of Israeli construction of settler homes in the West Bank. They also are likely to add momentum to those calling for action against Israel in global institutions, such the International Criminal Court, for war crimes committed against Palestinians.

Haaretz newspaper reported on Wednesday that Col Shalev said the purpose of the military’s tactic was a deliberate attempt to reduce the population of Palestinian communities. The policy dovetails with Israeli administrative restrictions that prevent them from building homes.

He made those comments during an April 27 meeting of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that focused on how to empty Palestinian residents from Area C, approximately 60 per cent of the West Bank that Israel directly administers and where the bulk of its more than 300,000 settlers in the territory live.

Referring to Palestinians, Col Shalev told the meeting of right-wing parliamentary members, settler leaders, police and officials from various ministries that “in places where we significantly reduced the amount of training, weeds have grown”.

He also detailed efforts to restrict international organisations that provide aid, such as tents and water, to Palestinian communities in Area C whose properties are routinely demolished by Israeli authorities. Israeli authorities have demolished tens of thousands of Palestinian structures over the years often for lacking building permits, which Palestinians say are virtually impossible to obtain from Israeli administrators.

International aid organisations have complained about rising Israeli pressure. Recently, the Red Cross halted its distribution of tents to Palestinian shepherds in protest.

Col Shalev described the military’s confiscation of aid as“a punch in the right places”.

“When you confiscate 10 large, white and expensive tents, it’s not easy. It’s not simple to recover,” he said.

Roughly 18 per cent of Area C is designated as closed military zones despite some 6,200 Palestinians who live in those areas. They often are forced to vacate their communities of primarily shepherds and farmers for days at a time because of military exercises.

The military’s acknowledgement of the tactic is set to add more fuel to international efforts to hold Israel to account for what they regard as consistent violation of its obligations as the occupying power of the Palestinian territories, which include the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Israel is breaking international law because it began moving its own population of Jewish settlers – which now numbers over half a million – onto those areas, which it captured during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The revelation comes amid an outcry by Palestinians as well as Israeli rights groups following the release of video footage that shows two young Palestinians apparently being shot dead by Israeli snipers without justification.

The United Nations and the US State Department urged Israel to conduct an investigation and Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, the UN’s assistant secretary general, told a Security Council briefing that there was a “serious concern that initial information appears to indicate that the two Palestinians killed were both unarmed and appeared to pose no direct threat”.

The incident occurred during the annual demonstrations on May 15 marking the Nakba, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian fled or were forced out of their homes by Jewish militias.

Scores of Palestinians had been squaring off with Israeli forces near a West Bank military base, but Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for the Israeli human rights watchdog B’Tselem, said the soldiers face “zero danger” from Muhammad Abu Thahr and Nadim Nuwara, 16 and 17 respectively, who were shot dead by snipers about 200 metres away.

Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s defence ministry, said the video footage of the incident had been manipulated.

Although he said he had not seen the footage, he described the soldiers’ as facing “a life-threatening situation, so the officers acted accordingly”.

* Additional reporting by the Associated Press

hnaylor@thenational.ae

Published: May 21, 2014 04:00 AM

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