The Arab takeover of Israel Defense Forces’ training grounds in the southern Hebron Hills continues: The British government and the European Union are paving an illegal road through the very same training ground that was the subject of Regavim’s recent Supreme Court petition.
The United Kingdom and the European Union recently began paving a road on land in IDF Firing Zone 917 in the southern Hebron Hills despite the Israeli government’s recent claims that it is enforcing the law there.
In recent weeks, illegal roadworks have been conducted in the heart of an IDF training area. The road is scheduled for completion in mid-February of this year, only weeks from today, and the signs along the route of this illegal roadway leave no room for doubt: “This project is funded by the U.K. through the European Union and the Municipal Development and Lending Fund.”
The illegal construction on IDF Training Ground 917 covers thousands of dunams; it includes hundreds of residential structures, schools, clinics and mosques. Illegal infrastructure corridors for access roads, internal roads, power lines, etc.—covering dozens of kilometers more—is funded by a combination of foreign bodies, among them the European Union, the United Arab Emirates and Abu Dhabi.
The bottom line: A new Arab city is being built in a strategically critical area, creating a swath of territory under Arab control stretching from the Arad Valley to the Hebron Hills and eastern Gush Etzion.
In the 1980s, a handful of Bedouin families lived in tents and temporary structures on the grounds of the training zone. Although it had no legal authority to do so, the Civil Administration set aside a number of “non-enforcement zones,” where they allowed these squatters to build without the construction permits, planning approval or zoning codes required by law. This past November, Regavim submitted maps of the area to the Supreme Court, proving that over the past several years more than 500 illegal structures were built outside of the non-enforcement zones—specifically, in the areas that connect these zones.
In a case of give-them-a-finger-and-they’ll-take-the-entire-hand, the illegal construction in recent years has focused on connecting the clusters that the Civil Administration previously decided to “overlook.” The new U.K.-E.U. roadworks connect a number of these clusters.
In the recent Supreme Court hearing, the government’s lawyer admitted that the “arrangement” that had authorized illegal construction “reflects an historic reality, but does not reflect the current policy of the government regarding illegal construction.” The government’s representative stated that the State of Israel intends to implement planning and regulation of the illegal construction in this area, and is currently carrying out routine law-enforcement procedures there “as per established priorities.”
Regavim expressed sharp criticism of the Civil Administration.
“Apparently, statements made in court are one thing, and action in the field is another,” says Yishai Hemo, Regavim’s Field Coordinator for Judea and Samaria. “The British and the European Union are conducting illegal activities on IDF training grounds, and aren’t the least bit shy about taking full ‘credit’ for it. Apparently, they don’t believe that the Civil Administration will enforce the law at all. We call upon the Foreign Ministry to respond forcefully to this violation of Israeli law and sovereignty, and demand that the Defense Ministry stop the illegal roadwork and protect the IDF’s training zones.”
Naomi Kahn is director of the International Division of Regavim, a research-based think tank and lobbying group dedicated to preserving Israel’s resources and sovereignty.