News

Inside Masafer Yatta, the West Bank villages at the centre of the latest Israel-Palestine tensions


More than 1,000 Palestinians living in a “firing zone” are facing expulsion from their villages, in what would be one of the largest forcible transfers since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967.

Israel’s supreme court rejected evidence from residents of Masafer Yatta, a group of villages in the South Hebron hills, that their presence preceded the declaration of Firing Zone 918 in 1981. Judges also ruled that the Geneva Convention against forcible transfer of an occupied population did not apply to a domestic court.

The verdict follows more than 40 years of struggle. Hundreds of residents of Masafer Yatta were expelled in 1999, before the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) secured an injunction that allowed them to remain. The supreme court’s ruling now authorises the army to clear the site.

“Now we are afraid they will come to transfer our families,” says Eid Hathaleen, a shepherd and photographer from Masafer Yatta, who says his family have lived here since 1962.

Residents of the pastoral community have endured years of harassment and violence from the army and nearby settlements, which are illegal under international law. An attack by settlers last year resulted in several injuries, including a child hospitalised with a fractured skull. Village elder Suleiman Hathaleen – Eid’s father – was killed during a protest in January.

Journalist Basil Al-Adraa was recently discharged from hospital after being assaulted by soldiers. He says he has also seen his father being detained and beaten, and his home raided with stun grenades.

A shepherd with his herd in the Palestinian village of Jinba, part of the Masafer Yatta area in the Israeli-occupied West Bank (Photo: Getty)

In common with all Palestinians living in Area C, the 60 per cent of the West Bank under full Israeli control, residents have been unable to build without permits that are rarely granted. Structures and infrastructure are routinely demolished by the army, and possessions have been confiscated. “They leave you in the desert with nothing,” says Hathaleen.

The villagers have fought for the right to remain with support from international and Israeli campaign groups. The ACRI and All That’s Left have documented violence and demolitions (including today), and provided legal representation. Campaigners have also brought EU and US diplomats to Masafer Yatta, hoping they might add their weight to the coalition.

Every member of the community is determined to remain, says Al-Adraa. Eviction would leave them homeless without compensation, but they would also lose a way of life.

“There is no other solution,” he says. “This is the only life and homes we have. It’s not just destroying homes, it is the culture and traditions…you cannot carry this community to another place.”

The supreme court’s ruling sets a “very problematic” new precedent, says lawyer Roni Pelli of the ACRI, who represented the villagers.

“(The judges) said that article 49 of the Geneva Convention is not relevant…that there is no prohibition on forcible transfer,” says Pelli. “They say there is an argument about how much the state must obey this article and we believe there is no question.”

The practice of creating firing zones, ostensibly for use in military training, has been criticised by human rights groups as a pretext for acquisiton of Palestinian territory. A spokesperson for Israeli NGO B’Tselem described them as “one of the tools” – along with bans on Palestinian construction and state support for settlements – “to remove rural Palestinian communities from their land in order to misappropriate it for Israeli use.”

More from World

Documents submitted to the court by the ACRI showed that the Agriculture Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, introduced zone 918 to curb “the spreading of Arab villagers on the mountainside”. Around 18 per cent of the West Bank has been seized for such zones, according to the UN. In several cases they are now being used as settlements.

The EU has condemned the court’s decision, stating “the establishment of a firing zone cannot be considered an ‘imperative military reason’ to transfer the population under occupation.”

A UK Foreign Office official said “we are clear that demolitions and forced evictions are contrary to International Humanitarian Law.” The IDF did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling, or its plans to evict the villagers.

The ACRI will file for a new hearing but is unsure if this will be granted. Pelli notes that it is rare for the court to rule against the army.

Hathaleen says that residents are aiming to build an international movement against eviction. He points to the case of Khan al Amar, another West Bank village long threatened with demolition, which has mobilised enough popular support to resist that fate until now.

Al-Adraa expresses frustration that while the international community has shown resolve to punish violations of international law in Ukraine – including forcible transfers – there is “no pressure on Israel from the diplomatic or economic side to make them stop what they are doing.”

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

close