This week, the IDF held a military exercise that began in the Negev in Biq’at Arad and ended in Training Ground 918 in the South Hebron Hills.

Shouldn’t be much of a big deal, right?

Well, far-left organizations such as B’Tselem pounced on this opportunity to attack the IDF, claiming that the drills were held “in Palestinian villages” and forced “local residents out of their homes”. This left-wing propaganda was publicized in the international media, too. It’s important for us at Regavim to present the facts so that fair-minded people aren’t brainwashed by these lies.

1. Training Ground 918 was declared a firing zone by the IDF in the early 1980s.

2. It’s a desert area, and like all other training grounds, was empty – besides sometimes functioning as a grazing area.

3. Training Ground 918 has served various IDF units over the years – including infantry, artillery, and the Air Force.

4. In 2000, local Arabs began to take over the area through mass illegal construction.

5. Due to the construction, the IDF was forced to reduce its activities in the Training Ground and made changes to training schedules.

6. Radical left-wing organizations filed a petition to the High Court of Justice, claiming that hundreds of Arab families had lived in the Training Ground for many years.

7. The IDF checked and found that only a handful of families lived in the area in 2000 – and they were all there on a seasonal basis. It wasn’t their permanent residence!

8. Out of 49 families mentioned in the petition, at least 38 were identified as permanent residents of the nearby village of Yatta or other villages.

9. Despite the State’s position, which viewed the land as rightfully belonging to the State, the High Court offered a compromise: the illegal structures on the periphery of the Training Ground would remain, and the rest of the land would be permitted for grazing and other agricultural purposes when the IDF isn’t using the grounds.

10. Although the Palestinian Authority was involved from the starting point, from 2009 onwards, together with international organizations, it started actively funding the illegal construction as part of their efforts to take over Area C. (For more on the #BattleforAreaC – see here)

11. In the meantime, the State of Israel didn’t do much; local Arabs continued their encroachment and even paved an illegal smuggling route.

12. The PA ignored the High Court’s suggestion for compromise. And as the PA-led encroachment increased, the number of IDF drills decreased drastically.

**

Ok, so to sum up, what happened this week? Exactly what happened a year ago, and the year before that. IDF troops came to train in an #DF training zone.

Unlike the left-wing radicals, we like to talk #facts rather than fake news and hateful, fabricated, anti-Israel narratives.

The Arab village was established in the middle of the IDF Training Ground, and not vice-versa. That must be the starting point of any discussion.

Please share this post to help us get the truth out.

Regavim: Protecting Israel’s Resources, Preserving Israeli Sovereignty

PA ‘celebrates’ Tu b’Shvat near Rosh HaAyin

Yesterday (Sunday 24 January), the Palestinian Authority planted thousands of trees on Israeli state land, in an IDF firing zone. Participating in the event were armed Palestinian Police. Regavim: “While they’re establishing facts on the ground, the Israeli authorities are in winter hibernation.”

The Palestinian Authority held a ceremony yesterday (Sunday), planting some 2000 olive trees on Israeli state land, in IDF Training Ground 203 – adjacent to Rosh HaAyin to the east and Dir Balut in the west, in close proximity to the security barrier.

The event was filmed, photographed and publicized by Fatah– affiliated Radio Zeituna and on social media. Armed Palestinian Police officers were among those in attendance, and were filmed as they entered the IDF firing zone – despite the fact that are prohibited from entering Area C, the section of Judea and Samaria under Israeli jurisdiction.

This event is one element of a large-scale project that has taken shape over the past several years, in which the Palestinian Authority has planted millions of trees as a means of illegally seizing control of thousands of dunams in Area C.

The Palestinian Authority’s “agricultural annexation” focuses on land adjacent to roadways, surrounding Jewish communities, as well as state land – particularly in locations that are of high strategic and political importance.

“The Palestinian Authority has joined the Tu B’Shvat celebrations with well-planned ‘agricultural conquest’ projects – and thus far, the State of Israel is fast asleep,” said a spokesperson for Regavim. “These projects are supported by massive European funding, and the targeted locations are chosen with care to serve a clear and publicly-declared purpose: changing the map, by creating facts on the ground – and all within spitting distance of Rosh HaAyin and Gush Dan.”

The State admits: Illegal construction for Arabs was whitewashed– but policy has changed

In the course of a High Court of Justice hearing on  Regavim’s petition against the illegal Arab city growing in the Judean Desert, the State’s attorney admitted that in the past Arabs had been allowed to build without permits or planning approval.

On 20 November 2018, Israel’s High Court of Justice heard Regavim’s petition regarding an illegal Arab city growing on the grounds of IDF Training Range 917. The city, made up of 1,700 illegal structures – homes, schools, clinics, mosques – covers tens of thousands of dunams. The infrastructure that supports it all is spread over dozens of kilometers, thanks to generous funding provided by  the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, and other foreign interests.

The bottom line: A new Arab city has been born in an area of critical strategic importance, creating a contiguous Arab pale of settlement that stretches from the Arad Valley through Har Hebron and eastern Gush Etzion.

Foreign funding for illegal construction in 917

Background:

In the 1980s, a few Bedouin families lived in temporary structures that dotted the landscape of IDF Training Ground 917. Without any legal foundation or precedent, the Civil Administration demarcated a number of clusters and declared them”no go zones:” No law enforcement steps would be taken against structures within these areas, despite the fact that they had no building permits or municipal plans as required by law.

As if this weren’t bad enough, Regavim has documented more than 500 additional illegal structures built outside of these demarcated zones in the last few years – structures that “connect the dots” between the original clusters and create an uninterrupted band of Arab territory that stretches from the Arad Valley through Har Hebron and eastern Gush Etzion.

The State’s representative admitted in court that the “arrangements” that had been in force, which allowed illegal construction to continue unhindered, “constitute an historic reality, but do not reflect the government’s current policy regarding illegal construction. Nonetheless, because of the ‘seniority’ of the structures in question, the State contends that construction and regulation should be allowed to proceed.” Despite the irrefutable evidence presented by Regavim to the contrary, the State’s attorney argued that the Civil Administration is carrying out law enforcement procedures “according to its priorities,” outside of the demarcated non-enforcement zones.

Questions without answers:

“The State decided in the past that there is no law within these clusters – but even outside of their boundaries there is absolutely no enforcement activity,” said Attorney Avi Segal of Regavim. “At issue is an increase of hundreds if not thousands of percentage points in the rate of illegal construction. The State should be required to explain by what authority it allowed this chaos to begin in the first place. Now, the government sends its attorney to court to announce that someone has been hired to formulate a plan – but he is unable to say who this “someone” is, when this plan will be implemented, or where it will be implemented. The State has not demonstrated that any concrete steps toward cleaning up this mess have been taken. Whereas the court handed down very strict timetables for resolving the matter of a few paltry meters in structures that were built without permits elsewhere, in this case we are talking about 1700 illegal structures – and counting.”

The hearing, in a nutshell:

At the hearing, Chief Justice Hayut reprimanded the State’s attorney, who had stated over a year ago that “progress” had been made – but since then, has not produced a time-frame or operational plans. “The regulation team that is eventually chosen through the tender process now underway will be tasked with planning in any number of locations. What are the specific timetables regarding this particular area? How is it possible that the State does not have a plan of action?”

On the other hand, the Chief Justice required Regavim to add additional respondents to the petition: “There is no argument that many hundreds of illegal structures are involved,” said Chief Justice Hayut. “Residents of these illegal structures must be included as respondents to Regavim’s petition.” Attorney Segal explained that the residents have managed to avoid being served with papers, which were posted on the illegal structures instead. Furthermore, Regavim’s earlier attempts to serve residents with papers, as the court has required, were met with threats of physical violence.

Looking ahead:

In one month, the court will reconvene to consider the State’s plans for regulation and law enforcement, and Regavim will be there to continue the fight to protect Israel’s land resources.

IDF Firing Zones 917 and 918 are situated in a strategic area in the South Hebron Hills, a region that connects Israel’s eastern flank to the Negev and the Dead Sea.

For the past few years, a massive take-over of land in this area has been underway, and we at Regavim have made a major effort to combat the phenomenon and have the squatters removed. In Area 918, for example, we submitted a petition against an entire village, Halet al Dabaa, which was constructed illegally by the European Union.

We also petitioned the Supreme Court last year regarding an illegal road that had been paved, in another attempt to create facts on the ground and fulfill the Fayyad Plan’s vision of connecting Gaza, the Negev, and the Hebron Hills and create territorial contiguity that would effectively amputate the Negev from Israel.

***

This week, in response to our petition, the High Court of Justice issued an order to halt illegal development activities on IDF Firing Grounds 917 and 918.

We welcome the High Court’s clear pronouncement and hope it will be the first step toward halting this catastrophic plan.