Largest Palestinian displacement in decades looms after Israeli court ruling -Breaking
© Reuters. Palestinian Mahmoud Nasreh points to his destroyed house in Masafer Yatta in South Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. This was May 31, 2022. Picture taken May 31,2022. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
By Henriette Chacar
MASAFER YATTA (West Bank) – After a decade-long legal struggle that culminated last month at Israel’s highest court, some 1,200 Palestinians living in Masafer Yatta in West Bank face forced expulsion to allow for an army firing area.
It was the first time that a large displacement has occurred since Israel occupied the area in 1967. Residents are resisting leaving, hoping that Israel will not be able to evict them due to their resistance and international pressure.
Wadha Abu Sabha said that “they want to take the land from us in order to build settlements.” He is a resident at al-Fakheit. This is one of several hamlets where Palestinian farmers and shepherds claim an historic connection with the land.
She stated, “We’re still here,”
The area was declared a military closed zone in the 1980s by Israel, known as the “Firing Zone 918”. The Israeli government argued that these 3,400 acres (7,400 hectares) bordering Israel and West Bank were crucial for training purposes. It also argued that Palestinians who lived there were seasonal.
Abu Sabha, whose voice was breaking, sat alone in one of the tents that remained, lit only by a single bulb.
This area of the South Hebron Hills was home to communities that lived underground caves for centuries. In the 20th century, many of them have built tin shacks above ground.
Abu Sabha explained that Israeli forces have been demolishing these buildings for years. But now, with the backing of the court they can evict more people.
Her family’s items were reduced to rubble when soldiers came with bulldozers. The significant loss of livestock was more painful than furniture, she said.
The argument in the long-running case was centered around whether Palestinians living across the region are seasonal or permanent residents.
Supreme Court ruled that residents had “failed in their claims of permanent habitation” prior to the firing zone being declared. The Supreme Court relied upon aerial photos as well as excerpts of a 1985 book, which both sides referenced for evidence.
Yaacov Havakook (Israeli anthropologist) wrote the book, “Life in the Caves at Mount Hebron”. He spent three years researching the lives and livelihoods of Palestinian shepherds and farmers in Masafer Yatta.
Havakook refused to make any comments and instead referred Reuters directly to his book. However, he stated that he attempted to give an expert opinion in support of residents, following a request by their lawyer, but was blocked from doing so at the Israeli defense ministry where he was working.
European Union and the United Nations condemned the ruling of the court and called on Israel to cease demolitions and evictions.
The EU spokesperson stated in a statement that “The creation of a firing line cannot be considered an imperative military reason to move the population under occupation.”
In a transcript https://www.akevot.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/1981-07-12-%D7%95%D7%A2%D7%93%D7%AA-%D7%A9%D7%A8%D7%99%D7%9D-%D7%9C%D7%94%D7%AA%D7%99%D7%A9%D7%91%D7%95%D7%AA-%D7%A7%D7%98%D7%A2%D7%99%D7%9D-%D7%9E%D7%A1%D7%98%D7%A0%D7%95%D7%92%D7%A8%D7%9E%D7%94.pdf of a 1981 ministerial meeting on settlements uncovered by Israeli researchers, then-Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, who later became prime minister, suggested the Israeli military expand training zones in the South Hebron Hills to dispossess the Palestinian residents of their land.
Sharon said that Sharon wants to give you more training spaces, due “to the spread of Arab villagers from the hills toward desert”.
According to Israeli military officials, the zone was designated a firing range for “a number of pertinent operational considerations”; the closing order had also been violated by Palestinians who built in violation of the ban over the years.
United Nations says that Israeli authorities have rejected most Palestinian building permit applications in Area C. It is an area comprising two-thirds West Bank, where Israel holds full control. Most Jewish settlements can be found there. The Palestinians have limited autonomy in other parts of the West Bank.
U.N. data revealed that Israel marked almost 30% of Area C for military firing zones. These designations put 38 most vulnerable Palestinian communities in greater danger of being forced to flee.
In the meantime, the settlements have expanded, restricting Palestinian movement as well as the available space for farmers and ranchers to graze their goats or sheep.
Mahmoud Ali Njajreh, another at-risk hamlet, said, “All these olives, are mine,” pointing out a nearby grove. “How are we going to get away?”
His 3,500 olive tree plants two years ago, which he counted individually, were starting to flower.
Najajreh said to Reuters, “We will wait until the dust settles and then rebuild again.” We would prefer to die here than go.