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Masafer Yatta

Masafer Yatta is a region of the West Bank, in Palestine. The Israeli High Court of Justice has ordered the expulsion of 1,000 Palestinians from eight villages in the region, on the basis that the IDF needs their land for military training purposes.

In 1981, the IDF first declared an 11.5km² section of Masafer Yatta encompassing twelve villages and their agricultural lands to be a “firing zone”, which would have made it a closed military zone that the Palestinians who lived there would be barred from accessing. This is a technique the Israeli state has used more broadly to seize control over West Bank land; as of 2012, the IDF had declared 18% of Area C of the West Bank (the area they are supposed to have “generously” let Palestinians govern themselves) as a “firing zone”. (The page apartheid in Israel may have more details on such strategies to seize control.) Israel declared that the Palestinians living in Masafer Yatta were not “permanent residents”, and forced them on trucks to transport them out of their villages. In 2000, residents won a court injunction that allowed them to return to their homes. In 2012, the IDF updated their claim so that the area they would be seizing included only eight, not twelve, of the villages in Masafer Yatta. And then, as mentioned, in 2022 the Israeli High Court of Justice overturned the injunction and ordered deportations and the seizure of land to proceed.

One of the excuses the Israeli court gave as to why the Palestinians should be deprived of their homes is that they had “refused” to negotiate a compromise. That is, they rejected a “deal” whereby they would have been permitted:

to reside in their villages on weekends, Jewish holidays, and for two non-consecutive months every year.

But as the Jewish Currents article linked below notes, people whose livelihoods are built on farming the land cannot manage with such intermittent access to it. Not to mention the deal would have required all of them to maintain second homes to live in on weekdays for the other ten months of the year… at which point the Israeli state would surely say so what’s the big deal if you lose Masafer Yatta, you all have perfectly good homes elsewhere? So this “deal” was nothing but an insult.

Following the IDF’s victory in court, all structures in the “firing zone” are now subject to a demolition order, all non-residents (but especially journalists and activists) are forbidden to enter the area, and residents are subject to sometimes-violent harassment by Israeli soldiers and the theft of their cars.

Part of Masafer Yatta has also been designated as part of “archaeological zones”. This means, for example, that the Palestinians who live in ancient cave dwellings get ordered to leave because they’re “desecrating” the ancient archaeological sites, even though these sites have been continuously occupied by these Palestinians and their ancestors for generations.

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