The Israeli plan to transform the hilly landscape at the southern tip of the West Bank into a firing zone goes back to the 1970s, when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) declared some 30,000 dunams (7,500 acres) in the area a closed military zone. Under Israeli military law, only permanent residents are allowed to remain in closed military zones, and most of the residents do not meet the requirements to be considered permanent residents by the Israeli authorities. Some of them live in traditional tents and caves, by choice, while others have been unable to obtain the permits necessary to legally build.
Palestinians continued to live in the area relatively unperturbed until 1999, when eviction orders forced the evacuation of about 700 residents.
What followed were petitions by the residents and Israeli NGOs to the Israeli Supreme Court and an unsuccessful mediation effort. In the meantime, Palestinians continued to live and work on the land they say they have lived on for generations. The legal proceedings continued for 12 years, until the Israeli defense ministry finally pushed for the Supreme Court's approval for the evacuation of the area.
In its statement, the ministry contested residence claims by some of the 49 residents petitioning the court, stating that an investigation revealed that 38 of them actually had permanent residents in or near the nearby town of Yatta.
While humanitarian organizations and the European Union heavily criticized the planned evictions, Israel says it needs that particular area for training because of its unique topography and because of its security status.