KHIRBET AL-MEITEH, West Bank – The Israeli military on Wednesday ordered dozens of Palestinian Bedouins to leave their communities so it could conduct military exercises in a remote area of the West Bank.
The military said the order was temporary, and that the Palestinians were living illegally in closed military zones. The Bedouins say they have lived in the area for decades. While the army has issued temporary evacuation orders in the past, Bedouins say they have increased in frequency, and they charge the practice is meant to pressure them to leave their homes.
Israel has used largely empty areas of the West Bank for military bases, firing ranges and maneuvers since shortly after it captured the territory in 1967, marking off large areas for exclusive use of the military and bringing frequent complaints from Palestinians. The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank as a key part of a future state.
After receiving the latest evacuation order, one family dismantled its tents, and loaded sheep and small children onto a trailer in the community of Khirbet al-Meiteh alongside thin mattresses, pillows and blankets. "We will sleep here tonight, in this trailer," said Walid Zawahiri, 57. "There's nowhere else to go."
He and other residents said they had to leave their youngest sheep behind because they had nowhere warm to keep them. They feared that they would be eaten by wild animals or shot during military training. The communities rely on herding animals to survive.
Zawhiri said it was the fourth time he had been ordered to relocate in a year. Nearby, soldiers arrived in military vehicles, setting up dummies for target practice.
The evictions occurred in the Jordan Valley, a section of the West Bank along the border with Jordan. Although Palestinians have a measure of self-rule in other parts of the West Bank, Israel retrains overall military and administrative control over most of the Jordan Valley.
The area, mostly desert, is home to 60,000 Palestinians, the United Nations estimates. Some 8,000 are Bedouins, a culturally distinct community that once roved between winter and summer grazing sites with its livestock. Now they are mostly tethered to one area, and rely on sheep herding and manual labor to get by. They tend to live on the poor margins of Palestinian society.
The Jordan Valley is among the 60 percent of the West Bank that remains under full Israeli control, nearly two decades after interim peace accords granted the Palestinians autonomy elsewhere in the territory. The Israeli-controlled section includes military bases, nature reserves and Jewish settlements.
In a separate incident Wednesday, dozens of Israeli settlers tried to block access to a strip of land that Palestinians sought to cultivate near the northern West Bank village of Jaloud. The Palestinians obtained a court order allowing them enter their lands after Israeli settlers in the past tried to claim the land as their own, said lawyer Qamar Mashriqi.
The military said soldiers dispersed the crowd.
The settlers of the Esh Kodesh outpost rolled flaming tires at Palestinian-owned tractors before the soldiers intervened.