The Israeli authorities must immediately halt the forcible eviction of more than 1,000 residents from Masafer Yatta, a Palestinian community in the occupied West Bank, Amnesty International said today, following weeks in which the Israeli army has repeatedly harassed people in the area, demolished homes and placed restrictions on freedom of movement. Inside Israel, the authorities must recognize the housing rights of Palestinian Bedouin citizens in the Negev/Naqab desert, who saw their village, al-‘Araqib, demolished again this morning, Tuesday 19 July.
In recent weeks, Masafer Yatta communities have been hit by wave after wave of demolitions according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). A campaign of intimidation by the Israeli authorities has sought to create unbearable living conditions that coerce residents into leaving. Roadblocks and other restrictions on movement have also prevented residents from celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha with their extended families in the nearby town of Yatta. On 11 May and 1 June, the Israeli army destroyed the homes of dozens of residents, with some suffering a third home demolition in the past 12 months.
With every day that accountability is delayed, more Palestinians are losing their homes, livelihoods and hopes for a life of dignity.Heba Morayef, Amnesty International
Around 1,150 Palestinians currently live in Masafer Yatta, of whom 569 are children, in over 200 homes, according to OCHA. Living conditions are dire, with residents almost entirely dependent on humanitarian aid. The Israeli authorities have issued orders to demolish or stop construction of almost all homes, animal shelters, cisterns, and community infrastructure in the area, on the grounds that they were built without permits, which are almost impossible to obtain.
“More than 1,000 Palestinians in Masafer Yatta, including around 500 children, are bracing themselves for the potential arrival of Israeli bulldozers that would demolish their homes, solar panels and animal pens. Going ahead with this large-scale expulsion would amount to an act of forcible transfer, which is a war crime and crime against humanity,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Middle East and North Africa Director.
“The imminent displacement of Palestinians from Masafer Yatta offers a stark reminder of the cruel strategy Israel has used for decades to maintain its cruel system of apartheid over Palestinians.”
Amnesty International is concerned that the housing rights of Bedouin citizens in Israel are not respected, and that they are discriminated against with regard to other economic, social and cultural rights as well, a policy aimed at maintaining Israel’s system of oppression and domination over Palestinians. Palestinian Bedouins who are citizens of Israel have suffered the repeated demolition of their homes as a corollary of discriminatory policies that do not recognize the legality of some 35 villages in the Negev/Naqab region. For example, since 2010 the authorities have repeatedly demolished all the homes in the village of al-‘Araqib, subjecting some 250 people to forced evictions that have rendered them homeless, as they relocated to shacks in other villages or to relatives’ residences in nearby Bedouin township. Israeli government plans to “regulate” Bedouin construction in the Negev/Naqab have led to the forced eviction of hundreds of members of this minority, and tens of thousands more are at risk.
“Instead of demolishing homes, the Israeli authorities should dismantle discriminatory planning and building policies that have put Bedouin citizens in the absurd situation of being labelled trespassers on their own lands,” said Heba Morayef.
Forced out of ancestral lands in Masafer Yatta
On 4 May 2022, Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) rejected multiple petitions by residents in eight villages of Masafer Yatta that sought to halt the eviction orders. As a result, homes and animal shelters are now being demolished, forcing residents out of their ancestral land to allow for military training in the area.
In 1980, the Israeli army designated the 3,000-hectare area as ‘firing zone 918’, a restricted military zone to be used for training exercises. In November 1999, the army expelled all Masafer Yatta residents, yet an interim injunction issued by the HCJ in March 2000 allowed them back pending a final decision, and under the condition that they do not restore their homes. Since then, residents have been denied permission even to install solar panels or water cisterns.
On 16 June, the Israeli army started carrying out military training in the area, which was only temporarily paused during a three-day visit by US President Joe Biden.
The HCJ based its decision on its flawed conclusion that Israeli military orders have precedence over international law, which demonstrates the need to enforce international justice mechanisms.
“The HCJ’s decision to uphold the Masafer Yatta expulsion highlights how Israel’s domestic courts are complicit in maintaining apartheid and perpetuating serious violations against Palestinians living under occupation. It shows the urgent need for an investigation by the International Criminal Court into war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). With every day that accountability is delayed, more Palestinians are losing their homes, livelihoods and hopes for a life of dignity,” said Heba Morayef.
Israel has systematically designated large areas of Palestinian land as military zones, state land, archaeological sites or national parks to maximize control over Palestinian land in both Israel and the OPT. These arbitrary classifications form key elements of Israel’s institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination of Palestinians. Moreover, a recent investigation into classified documents from 1979 revealed that Israel’s creation of ‘firing zones’ in the OPT, which cover approximately 20% of the occupied West Bank, was “for the sole purpose of eventually handing the land over to Israeli settlers”.
Masafer Yatta comprises 19 traditional villages and hamlets, of which eight are at imminent risk of demolition and displacement. The villages are located on the South Hebron Hills in Area C of the occupied West Bank. Area C covers 60% of the West Bank, yet the Israeli authorities retain exclusive control over planning and zoning in the region.
Across Israel and the OPT, Israel’s state-sanctioned, discriminatory policies and practices have forcibly displaced Palestinian communities for decades. Such policies have been deliberately designed to minimize Palestinians’ access to and control over strategic lands while seeking to maintain Jewish Israeli domination.
Also targeted by threats of forcible transfer are other Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills and the Jordan Valley, a strategic area for Israeli settlement expansion and encroaching annexation. Last July, one such community, the shepherding hamlet of Khirbet Humsa, was completely wiped off the map by Israeli bulldozers.
On the other side of the Green Line, in Israel, 35 “unrecognized” Palestinian Bedouin villages in the Negev/ Naqab are also at risk of demolition by the Israeli authorities in a blatant example of racial segregation. They do not feature on Israeli zoning and planning maps, and as a result, are considered illegal, with the Israeli authorities refusing to connect them to essential services including electricity and water. Ras Jrabah is one such village whose 500 residents are at risk of forcible transfer due to Israeli authorities’ plans to demolish it to allow for the expansion of Dimona, a town inhabited by mostly Jewish Israelis.