Jerusalem24 – The Israeli Supreme Court ruling issued in May that paves the way for the razing of eight Palestinian villages in Masafer Yatta in the southern occupied West Bank also threatens the surrounding communities, according to local activists.
The 1,200 residents of the eight villages slated for razing have been bracing themselves for the imminent displacement they expect will be forced on them any day.
International officials, including the United Nations, have warned that the Masafer Yatta displacement “could amount to forcible transfer, a grave breach of international humanitarian law and, thus a war crime.”
“Not a lot of hope”
Last Sunday, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the residents against the demolition of two schools, clinics, as well as other structures in the area. The residents’ lawyers immediately fired another petition seeking an interim injunction.
The Palestinian Ministry of Education condemned the latest Israeli attacks on education in Masafer Yatta: “The Ministry is deeply concerned with the increasing violations of the Israeli occupation in targeting the Palestinian education sector, including schools’ buildings and infrastructure. The latest decision in particular puts the schools in Khirbet Al-Fakheet and Jinba at risk, thus denying 140 students their right to education.”
Sami Huraini, a local activist with Youth of Sumud, said in an interview with Middle East Eye: “If the new petition is rejected, which we unfortunately feel will most likely happen, then it will threaten 50 percent of the structures in Fakheet, Janba, Tuba, and Isfai with imminent demolition.”
“There isn’t a lot of hope that another petition will stop things. Israel wants to kick us out and they’ll do anything to make it happen.”
A dangerous – and embarrassing – precedent
Huraini explained that the May Supreme Court decision, which greenlights the total razing of eight villages as well as the demolition of hundreds of other structures in surrounding villages due to their finding themselves located within “Firing Zone 918”, leaves all of the surrounding villages vulnerable.
The Supreme Court ruling issued quietly on 4 May on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day, found the prohibition of forced transfer set in international law to be “non-binding” in a domestic court. Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard called the ruling at the time “an embarrassing legal error.”
In light to the precedent set by the ruling, Huraini thinks the communities that weren’t originally included in the ruling will continue to see more demolition orders come their way in the coming weeks and months.
“We have been saying this forever, that even the villages that weren’t listed in the decision in May are going to be under threat because of the precedent that the supreme court decision laid out,” said Huraini.
“All of Masafer Yatta is under threat.”
“Firing Zone 918”
Israeli “top secret” documents declassified in July reveal that military firing zones were specifically created for the purpose of eventually transferring land to Israeli settlements.
According to the minutes of a 1979 meeting of the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, which works with the Israeli government, then-Agricultural Minister Ariel Sharon explicitly stated the firing zones are a method for land-grab.
“As the person who initiated the military fire zones in 1967, they were all intended for one purpose: to provide an opportunity for Jewish settlement in the area,” Sharon said at the meeting. “As soon as the Six-Day War ended, I was still sitting with my division in Sinai. I was in Sinai when I drew up these zones. The firing zones were created for one purpose: land reserves for settlements.”
Just two years later, during another meeting of the Settlement Division, Sharon said that Firing Zone 918 was declared on top of Masafer Yatta in order to stop the “spread of the Arab villagers on the mountainside toward the desert.”
According to additional documents unearthed by +972, Sharon intended to create a “buffer zone” between the Palestinian Bedouin of the Naqab (beyond the Green Line in Israel) and the Palestinians of the Masafer Yatta region, interrupting the geographic continuity between the two locations.
“How will I drive a wedge between the Bedouin in the Negev and the Arabs of the South Hebron Hills?” Sharon interrogated himself. The answer, according to him, was what he labelled an “ethnic border”.
As of 2015, approximately 17% of the West Bank had been designated a closed military firing zone.