The UN and other human rights bodies have previously termed Israel’s forced displacement of communities from Masafer Yatta a “serious breach of international humanitarian law” and a “war crime”

By Peoples Dispatch

Israel is set to evict residents of 14 Palestinians villages, a total of over 1,000 Palestinians including at least 500 children from their homes in Masafer Yatta in southern occupied West Bank. Israeli forces informed the local authorities about the move on Monday, January 2, and have already started carrying out individual demolitions.

MAY 13, 2022 Palestinians and solidarity activists protest against the forceful eviction of thousands of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta

The residents are facing imminent danger of forced displacement due to Israel’s plan to build a firing range for its military in the locality.

At least five houses were demolished by the Israeli forces on Tuesday, and one family was served a notice on Wednesday to vacate their house, Wafa reported. 

Israeli forces have also been confiscating lands belonging to public utilities such as schools and water tanks in the area for a long time now. According to B’Tselem, on Wednesday, Israeli forces even confiscated tents which were used as an alternative to school buildings by Palestinians. They also demolished houses and water holes, affecting dozens of people including 12 children.

In May last year, the Israeli High Court had rejected a Palestinian petition against the Israeli government’s plans to construct a firing range in Masafer Yatta. With the verdict, the court disposed of a nearly two-decades old case.

Al-Jazeera reported that residents are scared that eviction can be carried out at any moment without notice. They pointed out that since the court verdict last year, the Israeli army has been installing checkposts all around small communities to prevent the movement of people. Violence against Palestinians in the area by illegal settlers and Israeli security forces has also increased manifold following the court verdict.

A firing range over Palestinians’ rights

Masafer Yatta has around 2,500 Palestinian residents, mostly farmers and shepherds, who have lived there for generations. Israel decided to build a firing range in the region in 1999 and forcefully displaced most of the residents. However, the eviction was revoked following a court verdict. The case was ongoing for over two decades before the final verdict last year by the Israel High Court of Justice allowed the Israeli government to go ahead with the “firing zone 918.”

Masafer Yatta falls under Area C of the occupied West Bank where Israel has full military and administrative control as per the Oslo agreement signed between Palestinians and Israelis in 1994. Area C makes up around 60% of all the territory of occupied West Bank. The other two categories, Area A and Area B, have limited Palestinian authority.

A war crime

Palestinians and human rights groups have called Israel’s forceful eviction at Masafer Yatta “ethnic cleansing” with the objective of claiming more land to build illegal settlements, ultimately to prevent any possibility of a two-state solution.

Since the high court’s verdict, residents of Masafer Yatta have started a campaign against possible eviction, both digitally with the #SaveMasaferYatta campaign and on the ground by creating a defense committee which carries out protests against attempted individual evictions. The campaign has received some international support.

After the verdict in May, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCRC) had expressed concern about forceful displacement of Palestinians from Masafer Yatta, calling any such move a “serious breach of international humanitarian and human rights laws.”

It also questioned the Israeli judiciary for giving the Israeli government a carte blanche “to perpetuate the practice of systematic oppression against Palestinians.” It also questioned the rationale of the verdict which gave priority to Israeli military training in the area over “the rights of Palestinian residents,” adding that any “displacement of Masafer Yatta communities may thus amount to a war crime.”