Masafer Yatta, occupied West Bank – Israel’s High Court of Justice is expected to decide over the next month whether an area of the occupied West Bank, where Palestinian Bedouin communities have resided long before the Israeli occupation, will continue to be used for military purposes.
Masafer Yatta, located south of the city of Hebron, stretches for about 36 kilometers (22 miles) and is made up of 19 Palestinian villages that are home to more than 2,000 people.
The Israeli army designated part of the area as a closed military training zone in the 1980s, and “they have tried to evict the communities on this basis.” according to The United Nations.
Masafer Yatta is classified as at risk of forcible transfer, in what the UN describes as “coercive environmental conditions” created through “a series of policies and practices that have undermined his physical security and sources of livelihood.”
Residents are forced to evacuate their homes during military exercises for temporary periods that could last days, while helicopters fly over the heads of communities and heavily armed Israeli troops are present on the ground.
In addition to using the area as a training zone, the Israeli authorities have expropriated thousands of dunams of land from residents to establish illegal Israeli settlements, including Ma’on and Havat Ma’on, and whose residents carry out attacks against Palestinian communities. . One dunam, an Israeli term for a unit of measurement of land area, equals 1,000 square meters (0.2 square acres).
Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law.
“Israel wants this land because it is the highest point in the southern Hebron hills and has strategic value for the growth of Israeli settlements and outposts,” Masafer Yatta Mayor Nidal Yunis told Al Jazeera.
Masafer Yatta is within Area C, which comprises 60 percent of the occupied West Bank, which the administrative body of the Israeli occupation, the Civil Administration, reserves largely for the benefit of Israeli settlers.
The occupied West Bank was divided into Areas A, B, and C as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords. Israel retains full control of Area C, while the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been given limited powers to govern the Area A and B.
The Israeli authorities grant few building permits to Palestinians in Area C.
“The designation of the area as a shooting zone means that such permits are impossible to obtain,” the UN said. has said.
The area is also not connected to water and electricity networks, which supply the surrounding Israeli settlements and outposts.
“The state prohibits them from legally building their houses or connecting to electricity and water networks, restricts their grazing lands and allows acts of violence by settlers to make their lives so unbearable that they will leave of their own free will,” the group said. Israeli human rights. B’Tselem has said.
Civil Administration officials, accompanied by Israeli soldiers and border police equipped with bulldozers, have destroyed any attempted construction or connection to infrastructure by Bedouin communities.
Mayor Yunis said that on October 25, Israeli officials confiscated a tent set up by the community in al-Mufaqara village.
“They also destroyed a dirt road running from the Khirbet Khilet a-Dabe community to the al-Fakhit community and the main water line serving the Masafer Yatta community was also demolished,” he added.
The Israeli authorities have designated about 18 percent of the West Bank, or half of Area C, as military shooting zones, in which anyone is banned unless the military grants special permission.
Despite the ban, there are 38 small Palestinian communities, 12 of them in Masafer Yatta, which are home to more than 6,200 Palestinians located within these areas. Many of the communities were present before the arrival of the army and the closure of these areas.
Over the years, settlers destroyed at least 700 olive trees in Masafer Yatta, according to Yunis, and expropriated at least 2,000 dunams of land, with most of the land seized this year.
In September, dozens of settlers stormed the al-Mufaqarah community in Masafer Yatta, attacking residents, homes and vandalizing property.
“The attack, which was one of the most severe and heinous in memory of residents, injured several villagers, including a boy whose skull was fractured by rocks thrown by settlers while he was lying in bed,” Yunis said.
B’Tselem said that the Israeli soldiers who arrived at the scene fired tear gas canisters at the residents and that the settlers only left after an hour.
“Over the past year, settler attacks in Masafer Yatta have intensified as part of Israel’s policy of expelling the Palestinians and seizing their lands,” the organization said.
Fadel Raba’i and two of his sons from at-Tuwani, one of the Masefer Yatta villages, were attacked by settlers from the Havat Ma’on outpost during the holy month of Ramadan in May.
“We were celebrating the holiday after breakfast when the settlers set up a roadblock at the entrance to the village,” Fadel, 49, told Al Jazeera.
“When we tried to enter the village, they pepper-sprayed us in the face and when we tried to push them away, they threatened us with weapons before the Israeli soldiers arrived and arrested us.
“I was released after spending 50 days in prison and paying a fine of around $ 6,000, but my children are still incarcerated, charged with assault,” Fadel said.
In addition to blocking the entrance to the village, settlers had tried to prevent farmers from reaching their land, and when fighting broke out, young people from at-Tuwani came to support the farmers.
“They shot me in the leg with live ammunition and hit me on the head,” Ribhi Raba’i, 20, another member of the family, told Al Jazeera.
According to human rights groups, settler attacks on Palestinians have exploded in the occupied West Bank this year.
A report released in early November by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), covering the period to the end of September, states that 287 Palestinians were attacked by settlers this year so far this year, and 102 of those attacks resulted in casualties.
Last year, 274 Palestinians were attacked, resulting in 84 victims, while 259 attacks were reported in 2019 with 76 victims.
But these attacks are not new.
In 2018, farmer Juma’a Raba’i from at-Tuwani was brutally beaten by settlers with rocks, while trying to reach his farmland. He can no longer cultivate or walk without the aid of a cane.
“I learned to live with my disability, but when they beat my 73-year-old mother Fatma, sitting under an olive tree, it was the hardest thing for me,” Juma’a told Al Jazeera, recalling how a settler was holding a gun. to his head during the attack.
“She can no longer walk and is now confined to a wheelchair.”
Not only are the Palestinians increasingly under attack, but the Israeli army has demolished their infrastructure and properties.
OCHA reported in a humanitarian report that between October 5 and 18 alone, Israeli authorities demolished or confiscated 23 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C for lacking Israeli-issued permits, displacing four people.
“The displaced were in the shepherd community of Az Za’ayyem, near Jerusalem. Twelve structures, mainly residential, were dismantled in the Ras at Tin herding community in Ramallah, affecting 50 people, ”OCHA reported.
An estimated 350 farmers and their families were also affected by the demolition of a paved farm road in the Tayasir community in the Jordan Valley, OCHA said.
The remaining demolitions included structures at Salfit and Hebron.
The UN added that the number of structures that were demolished or seized in the first nine months of this year increased by 21 percent compared to the equivalent period in 2020, while 28 percent more people were displaced.
Yunis told Al Jazeera that the future looks bleak as settler attacks on the community have increased, more land is being taken and farmers are unable to build the necessary infrastructure.
“Our only hope is that the international community will pressure Israel to withdraw from Area C so that farmers and the community can live and work in peace.”