According to human rights groups and Palestinians in Masafer Yatta, the Israeli military has informed Palestinian officials of their upcoming plans to forcefully expel more than 1,000 Palestinian residents, including some 500 children, in the Masafer Yatta area of ​​the southern occupied West Bank.

That is what the Israeli Supreme Court (HCJ) has said green-lighted the plan in May 2022in a decision that ended a legal battle the residents had been fighting against their displacement for more than 20 years.

Residents say they can expect forced displacement and the demolition of their homes any time after the plans emerged on Monday.

“They can come unannounced – they can isolate each village and drive them out one by one, or they can make mass movements all at once. We don’t know,” Nidal Younis, head of the Masafer Yatta Village Council, told Al Jazeera.

“In the recent period, especially after the court ruling, they have paralyzed the movement of people in this area,” Younis continued. “There are villages with checkpoints at their entrances, and only residents of the area are allowed to enter and exit the area,” he added, noting that the military has detained residents for up to 12 hours in the past.

The forcible transfer of protected residents – defined by the Geneva Convention as “civilians who are in the hands of a party to the conflict of which they are not nationals” – into occupied territory is classified as a war crime under international law.

According to the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, Israel has offered residents of Masafer Yatta “alternative locations” to live in.

B’tselem commented that the offer was pointless. “Forced transfer of protected persons in occupied territory is a war crime,” the organization said. “It’s a violent threat that leaves residents no choice.”

The situation in Masafer Yatta has been internationally condemned. Let’s take a closer look at that:

What is Masafer Yatta?

Masafer Yatta is a semi-desert area in the southern district of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

It is home to some 2,500 Palestinians in 12 villages or hamlets, spread over about 30,000 dunams (7,000 hectares).

Masafer Yatta falls in the 60 percent of the occupied West Bank designated as “Area C,” under full Israeli military and administrative rule.

Many of the families lived there before the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967. They make their living as herders and farmers, but face a host of Israeli military policies, including restrictions on the maintenance and development of their homes, and the inability to access the electricity grid. and water network.

They are also surrounded by a belt of illegal Israeli settlements and live under what human rights groups call systematic violence by the Israeli police, army and settlers.

Carmel settlement in Masafer Yatta
The Carmel settlement in Masafer Yatta [Louy Alsaeed/Al Jazeera]

Why is Israel trying to drive them out?

In the 1980s, Israel classified most of Masafer Yatta as a closed “firing zone” for military training purposes, called Firing Zone 918.

Since 1967, Israel has designated some 18 percent of the occupied West Bank as closed military training or firing zones, leaving more than 6,000 Palestinians “illegal” residents in their own homes.

In 1999, Israeli forces expelled all residents of Masafer Yatta for living there “illegally” and not being permanent residents, despite the fact that most residents had documents proving ownership of their land.

A few months after the eviction, they were allowed to return “temporarily” following a preliminary injunction from an Israeli court, and they have been fighting for their right to remain on their land ever since.

The Israeli army regularly demolishes Palestinian homes and infrastructure in Masafer Yatta, and conducts training in and around the villages, including live ammunition and tanks, exposing residents to injury or death.

How is the response so far?

Younis, the head of the village council of Masafer Yatta, told Al Jazeera that residents “have decided to stay in their homes”.

“People are steadfast in their villages and will not leave. The occupation’s actions mean nothing to them,” he added.

An international digital campaign was launched last year by activists and activist groups in Palestine and abroad under the hashtag #SaveMasaferYatta, hoping to draw attention to the imminent risk facing residents and pressure Israel to accelerate its displacement efforts. to strike.

Human rights organizations and the international community have also responded.

The United Nations said in a statement that Masafer Yatta faces “imminent risks of forced evictions, arbitrary displacement and forced transfer, in grave violation of international humanitarian and human rights laws”.

“By maintaining this policy of expelling Palestinians from Masafer Yatta, the Israeli legal system has given the Israeli government carte blanche to continue the practice of systematic oppression of Palestinians,” the UN said on May 16.

Tor Wennesland, the special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, called on Israel at a UN Security Council meeting last month to “end the demolition of Palestinian property, prevent the possible displacement and expulsion of Palestinians and approve plans that enable Palestinians to build legally and meet their development needs.”

International human rights organization Amnesty International said: “[D]Providing Palestinians with a home is a pillar of Israel’s apartheid system.”

The Palestinian Authority, which controls limited parts of the occupied West Bank, said the demolitions would be a “flagrant violation of international law.”

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