Jerusalem24 – Senior Israeli military officers began preparations for the evacuation of over 1,000 Palestinians from eight Masafer Yatta villages in the southern Hebron hills over two months ago, Hareetz reported on 11 January.
The newspaper added that the planning began independently without prior discussions with political officials.
The senior officials said that the plan was first shown to the cabinet two weeks ago, after the new extreme right-wing government came into office, and coinciding with an official notification from the Israeli District Coordination and Liaison Office (DCO) to their Palestinian counterparts that residents would receive notices of their forcible displacement “in the coming days“.
It is unclear if the two events are linked.
“Firing zone” a threat to Palestinians, but not Israeli settlers
The land the communities of Masafer Yatta have been living on since before the creation of Israel was designated “Firing zone 918” in the 1980s, and Israeli authorities have used this pretext – as well as arguing that the people of Masafer Yatta are not “permanent residents” of their villages – to try and forcibly displace them since.
A ruling from the Israeli Supreme Court on 4 May 2022 finally paved the way for their mass expulsion.
Journalist, activist, and Masafer Yatta resident Basel Adra has previously told Jerusalem24 that the Israeli settlers living within the firing zone across three outposts are not themselves under threat of removal.
Caught off guard
Haaretz reported that the subject of the imminent forcible displacement came up in a meeting in late December between a representative of the Civil Administration (the Israeli body that deals with civil matters in the militarily occupied West Bank) in the Hebron area, Salim Sa’ad, and representatives of the Palestinian Authority, according to the residents.
At the end of the meeting, the PA representative told the Palestinian residents that Sa’ad believed the displacement would take place “in another year” and that Sa’ad had told him that there were two “alternatives for rehousing” the residents, which would be presented to them in the coming weeks.
The meeting had originally been planned to discuss a request to approve agricultural ploughing of lands in the area and the residents were caught by surprise at the PA representative’s statements. The residents were also told that Sa’ad spoke about the eviction of 12 villages – and not just the eight villages that were discussed in the last High Court of Justice petition.
Nidal Younis, head of the Masafer Yatta village council, told Jerusalem24 that it was supposed to be a “regular meeting” when he attended. “I was there to raise the issue of ploughing the land during this season, before it’s too late for farmers and their crops. During the meeting we understood that a plan for displacing us from 12 villages is underway.”
Over 2,000 Palestinians live in 12 villages and communities of Masafer Yatta, on 35,000 dunums of land, according to Younis.
EU considers demanding “reparations” over demolition of its projects
While avoiding the mention of the 2 January Israeli DCO notification regarding the imminent forced removal of Masafer Yatta’s residents, European Union spokesperson Shadi Othman issued a statement to the press on 11 January decrying Israel’s settlement policy and “illegal actions taken regarding the demolition of EU-funded projects”.
“It [EU] has repeatedly reminded Israel of the need to meet its obligations under international law, and especially international humanitarian law, towards the Palestinian population in the occupied West Bank, including in Area C and East Jerusalem.”
Younis told Jerusalem24 that most of the houses in Masafer Yatta as well as the water network system, solar system panels, five schools, and a number of paved roads that were funded by the EU, have been either completely destroyed or vandalized by the Israeli military.
“The Commission is keeping track of all demolitions and confiscations of donor-funded structures, including EU-funded assets and the related financial damage,” the statement read.
However, the statement was quick to clarify that no options for enforcement were on the table: “At this stage a list of possible options to secure compensation from Israel for EU funding lost in demolitions has not been discussed.”