A large part of the Masafer Yatta area is to be used as a military training ground, which means that over 1000 Palestinians living in the area will have to leave their homes. Picture left: Israeli military ensure that the children cannot disturb the ongoing demolition of their school in the village of Isfay al-Fauqa. Photo: Kenneth, Companion Program. Image right: Field workers view debris from a demolition in Khirbet al-Fakhiet, one of the 14 villages in Masafer Yatta. Photo: Axel Sandberg. 

FUF-correspondents, Report

Israeli court order forces thousands of Palestinians to leave their homes

I May 2022 stated the Israeli Hhighest the court that a large part of the area Masafar On yacht on the southern West Bank ska work as militaryt practice field. This means that the nearly 1 Palestinians who live in the area will be forcibly displaced.

At the southern border of the West Bank lies the area of ​​Masafer Yatta, where the Israeli occupation is expressed primarily through forced displacement. The area consists of 19 villages and is home to approximately 2 Palestinian residents. What distinguishes Masafer Yatta is that a large part of the area is now used for Israeli military purposes since as recently as last year.

- In a couple of weeks, maybe all the houses in the area will be demolished in just one hour. We know nothing, expresses Nidal Abu Younes, Masafer Yatta's chairman and spokesperson who was born and raised in the area.

According to Nidal Abu Younes, Masafer Yatta's chairman and spokesperson, the Israeli military has begun military exercises in the area. Photo: Axel Sandberg.
Map from 2020 of the West Bank. In the picture, only the southern half of the West Bank is visible, and Masafer Yatta is surrounded by a red line. Photo: UN OCHA. Edited by Axel Sandberg.

After 23 years of appeals, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled on May 4, 2022 to determine that the area must be a so-called military training ground or shooting range, under designation 918. Only Palestinians live in the military training area and they reach a population of 1 150 people spread over 14 villages. Palestinians have lived and worked there for generations. For them, the court decision means that their lives will be completely turned upside down. In plain language, the area will be forcibly evacuated because it is illegal to live in a military training field.

The Second Oslo Agreement was signed in 1995 and was an agreement between representatives from Israel and Palestine on how the Israeli occupation of the West Bank would be implemented temporarily. The initial idea was that for security reasons Israel would control the area until the situation was deemed timely enough to pass fully under Palestinian jurisdiction. In the agreement, the West Bank and East Jerusalem were divided into three areas - A, B and C. Area A is the responsibility of the Palestinian authorities, regarding both civil and security-related issues and they thus have full decision-making rights. In area B, the Palestinian Authority and Israel share the right of decision. Living in Area C means that the Israeli military has full control over one, but in accordance with international humanitarian law. Today, nearly 28 years after the Oslo Accords, 60 percent of the West Bank's area is still under full Israeli control control.

The road to the village of Shi'b al Butum in Masafer Yatta has been blocked by Israeli military and Israeli settlers. Photo: Eva Ulland, Companion Program.

Abu Younes says that the Israeli military has started military exercises in the area. Between Sunday and Thursday every week from seven in the morning until eight in the evening, armored vehicles, bulldozers and explosives are used. All the houses in the area are supposed to be demolished, and if the residents themselves don't do it, the military will do it. When the military does that, they often require compensation for work done depending on what the contract says.

Violates international law

These demolition orders are a violation of international humanitarian law, according to, among other things Amnesty International. According to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention the occupying power is prohibited from inducing mass forced displacements. Forced displacement can take different forms, as demonstrated in Masafer Yatta.

In parallel with the demolitions, the forced displacement is also expressed in the form of an extensive restriction of the residents' freedom of movement, which is also in conflict with the Fourth Geneva Convention. People who are going in and out of the military training ground to, for example, work or go home to their families are prevented from this.

- Even children and teachers are stopped and sometimes even arrested by the Israeli military on their way to and from the schools, says a bus driver who has himself been detained by the Israeli military.

An Israeli soldier ensures that the school demolition goes ahead undisturbed. Photo: Kenneth, Companion Program.

The bus driver works to transport students and teachers to schools in Masafer Yatta and was one day arrested and beaten by Israeli soldiers when he tried to help a girl take a path to avoid a roadblock set up by the Israeli military.  

Just a few weeks ago, on November 23, a school was demolished in the village of Isfay al-Fauqa, which is one of the 14 villages in Exercise Field 918. The 23 students who attended the school were in the school building when Israeli military came to demolish it . After the children were scared out with stun grenades, they watched as their school was razed to the ground. The following day, a replacement tent was erected so that the children's education could continue. The tent met the same fate and was taken down by the Israeli military already on December 6, writes the companion Kenneth, who were present during the events.

In the companion mission in the South Hebron Hills, we had limited access to the military training ground in Masafer Yatta. Because of the risk of our driver's car being confiscated by the Israeli military if we entered the area, we only got the chance to go in there a few times to visit the villages located in the outer part of the military training area. We were helped by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA) once, when we got to go with them to villages located further south.

Khallet Athaba – one of the villages in the 918 military training ground that is in danger of being erased from the map. Photo: Alex, International Solidarity Movement.

In this way, the meeting with Abu Younes became extremely important to be able to tell about the development from the inside. Hopefully, subsequent companions will have more opportunities to meet those living in the Masafer Yatta military training ground, to be able to listen to and pass on their experiences.

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