Israeli Forces Suppress Protests After Court Green Lights Demolitions in Masafer Yatta

Masafer Yatta, Palestine – Ruling on a decades-long case, the Israeli Supreme Court decided in May to authorize the expulsion of an estimated 1,200 Palestinians from the Masafer Yatta area. According to Israeli non-governmental organization Breaking the Silence, the court’s decision amounted to a green light for “the largest population transfer in the history of the occupation since the early 1970s.” Protests in the region of the South Hebron Hills in the Occupied West Bank in response to the ruling and the subsequent demolitions of homes and villages have been ongoing, even as Israeli forces work to suppress them.

The ruling upholds the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) labeling of the Masafer Yatta region as a “firing zone” and military training area “918.” The area was originally seized by Israeli forces after the 1967 six-day war and declared a military training zone in the early 1980s. Since then, the Israeli state has forcibly evacuated residents and supporters whenever they decide to conduct “military exercises.”

A document from the early 80s reveals statements from then-Minister of Agriculture Ariel Sharon endorsing the spread of more military “training zones” explicitly for the purpose of containing the “spread of Arab villagers from the hills toward the desert.” Sharon would go on to become Israeli prime minister from 2001–2006.

Palestinian residents of 12 villages in Masafer Yatta filed a petition to stop the evictions, claiming they’ve lived on the land for decades and provided photographs to the court proving their presence on the land before Israel declared it a military site in 1981. Despite this and other evidence, the Israeli Supreme court claimed the presence of Palestinians on the land was only seasonal.

The court further imposed a fine of 20,000 shekels ($5,900) on each of the petitioning families in court fees.

For decades, the residents have been struggling to hold on to their land as the ever-encroaching settlement expansion continues along with Israel’s policies of annexation and apartheid. Dozens of activists practicing civil disobedience while protesting the Israeli military and settlement expansion in Masafer Yatta have recently been tear gassed and beaten.

Israeli forces tear gassed and fired stun grenades at dozens of protesters on May 20 in Masafer Yatta. During the protest, Younes Arar, the Director of Hebron section of the Colonization and Wall Resistance Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization—a grassroots extension of the Palestinian Ministry on the Wall and Settlements Affairs—said the Israeli occupation forces “want to separate this side of the State of Palestine from its eastern borders for the settlement project.”

Arar said that Israel is “transforming the West Bank into separate squares” to prevent an independent Palestinian state.

“The occupation wants to destroy the dream of an independent Palestinian state.”

Younes Arar, member of the Committee to Resist the Wall and Settlements

A month later, on June 22, a number of international solidarity activists and Palestinians confronted Israeli military as training exercises were happening.

Ratib Jabour, the coordinator of the National Committee for the Resistance of the Apartheid Wall and Settlements south of Hebron, stated that Israeli forces deployed models of fake targets among the homes of citizens, and carried out training operations with heavy weapons, sparking a state of fear and panic among children and the elderly.

“We came here as activists to reject this scheme,” during the June 22 protest at Masafer Yatta, we heard from Palestinian social worker and highly respected West Bank activist Munthir Amira.

“This is part of the steps taken by the occupation forces in order to isolate and disperse the population and empty this area of ​​the Palestinians.”

Munthir Amira, Palestinian social worker and activist coordinator of the National Committee for the Resistance of the Apartheid Wall and Settlements

The occupation army remained consistent on June 22, 2022 and forcibly evacuated anyone who was still present in the area, including protesters and residents.

Despite the constant suppression by Israeli forces, Amira said: “We will continue our activities and we will stop these exercises and we will enter this area, despite all the announcements of the occupation and its threats to the residents and activists.”

A Palestinian child in Masafer Yatta watches Israeli forces after they cleared a protest on June 22, 2022, against the demolition of Palestinian villages and Israeli settlement expansion

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