IDF to stop training in ‘sensitive Palestinian areas’

Military adviser tells human rights NGO that soldiers will refrain from entering cemeteries, notify residents ahead of drills

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Israeli soldiers practice urban warfare on the Zeelim army base in southern Israel. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers practice urban warfare on the Zeelim army base in southern Israel. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The IDF will notify Palestinians before carrying out training in Palestinian villages and avoid doing so in “culturally or religiously significant areas,” in the Palestinian Territories, a military legal adviser said.

Replying to a letter by Israeli Human Rights NGO Yesh Din, Colonel Doron Ben Barak, the IDF’s legal adviser in the West Bank, wrote that military orders oblige the IDF to notify Palestinian villagers of military training taking place in the village, but acknowledged that of late such notification was not given.

“Following your letter, the Central Command will emphasize to the soldiers the need to notify [residents] before conducting training in villages,” Ben Barak wrote Yesh Din on January 28.

The IDF regularly conducts training in Jewish and Arab villages both in Israel and in the West Bank to simulate urban warfare, an increasing part of Israeli military engagement. According to Ben Barak, training in special facilities built by the IDF to simulate urban warfare is “significantly less effective” than training in a genuine urban setting.

“In order to maintain its readiness to deal with threats emanating from built-up areas in the region, the IDF is sometimes forced to train in residential areas,” he wrote. “Despite the benefit of training in Israeli towns, the [IDF’s] professional staff does not regard them as a substitute to training in [Palestinian] villages in the area, given the unique characteristics of these villages.

“The IDF is aware of the fact that training in residential areas may cause discomfort to the population, but given the security reality in the region, it is imperative,” he wrote.

On October 31, 2013, Yesh Din, which deals with Palestinian human rights infringements in the West Bank, documented Israeli soldiers simulating a Palestinian demonstration in the Muslim cemetery of Tel Rumeida in Hebron.

Following the incident and Yesh Din’s appeal, Ben Barak wrote: “IDF forces in the area were told to avoid training in public places of special religious or cultural significance, including cemeteries.”

A more junior legal adviser, Major Harel Weinberg, wrote to Yesh Din in October 2013 on the legality of the training. Weinberg stated that, according to the laws of belligerent occupation under which the IDF operates in the West Bank, military training in residential areas is permitted, as long as soldiers “avoid endangering the [local] population, damaging their property, or unreasonably disrupting their routine.”

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