oPt

Fact sheet: Masafer Yatta Communities at Risk of Forcible Transfer, June 2022

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KEY FACTS

  • In the 1980s, Israeli authorities designated a part of Masafer Yatta in the South Hebron Hills as ’Firing Zone 918’, a closed military zone. Since this declaration, residents have been at risk of forced eviction, demolition, and forcible transfer. The two villages of Khirbet Sarura and Kharoubeh no longer exist after their homes were demolished.

  • Approximately 20% of the West Bank has been designated as “Firing Zones”, affecting over 5,000 Palestinians from 38 communities.

  • Currently in Masafer Yatta, 215 Palestinian households live in the area, including about 1,150 people, of which 569 are children.

  • In 1999, the Israeli government issued eviction orders against approximately 700 Palestinian residents of Masafer Yatta for “illegally living in a firing zone”, as a result of which the Israeli military evicted by force most of them and destroyed or confiscated their homes and property. This eviction contradicted an existing Israeli military order, which stipulated that the restrictions regarding the firing zone would not be applied to existing residents of the area1 .

  • A few months later, the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ), in response to a petition filed on behalf of the residents, issued an interim injunction allowing most of the people to return, pending a final court decision. However, the existence of eviction orders left residents living under the constant threat of destruction of their properties and the risk of forcible transfer.

  • In a 2012 petition to the HCJ, the Israeli military reasserted its right to evict eight of the thirteen communities from the area, while offering them access to the land for cultivation and grazing only on weekends and Jewish holidays. Legal action, humanitarian aid and advocacy challenged this decision and provided temporary protection from forced eviction to the Palestinian residents of Masafer Yatta.

  • During an August 2020 court hearing, Israeli authorities argued that the Palestinian communities had not been permanent residents of the area when it was declared a firing zone, and therefore did not have the right to continue living in their homes.

  • In July 2020, a transcript was submitted to the court of a 1981 hearing in which the then Minister of Agriculture instructed Israeli Forces to create training zones in the area to displace the Palestinian residents.2

  • In parallel, communities in Masafer Yatta have been subject to several waves of demolitions and demolition orders since 1999, including against villages outside the firing zone.3

  • On 4 May 2022, the HCJ ruled that there were no legal barriers to the planned expulsion of Palestinian residents from Masafer Yatta to make way for military training,4 effectively placing them at imminent risk of forced evictions, arbitrary displacement, and forcible transfer.

  • Since the 4 May 2022 court ruling, Israeli authorities have increasingly intensified a coercive environment for Palestinians in Masafer Yatta:

    » 18 May: Israeli forces issued a military seizure order for the construction of a two-lane patrol road in the ‘Firing Zone’.

    » 11 May and 1 June 2022: Dozens of Palestinians had their homes demolished in Khirbet Al Fakhiet and Mirkez. For some of them, the 1 June demolition was the third time to lose their homes in less than a year.

    » 7 June: Israeli authorities issued demolition orders for all seven homes and most livelihood structures in Khirbet at Tabban.

    » 10 June: Israeli forces went house to house in most communities to photograph residents’ faces and identification documents, raising fear among residents of increased restrictions on movement.

    » 16 June: a day after it was announced that a military training exercise would take place in the area, additional demolition orders were issued for 20 structures in Khallet Athaba’.

    » 20 June: A declaration delivered by Israeli Forces to the lawyers in Masafer Yatta indicated that the military training would take place for a period of 4 weeks.

    » 21 June: A military training exercise began with the military placing targets close to inhabited residential areas within Masafer Yatta. Since military training began, there has been an increase in movement restrictions imposed on the community by Israeli Forces, even on days when training is not taking place

Disclaimer

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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