Israel has begun mass evictions from villages on the west bank of the Yattar in Masaf

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Al-Markaz Village, West Bank – The Najjar family knew what to expect on the morning of May 11 when a neighbor called: “The bulldozer is coming.” For the second time in five months, Israeli troops stormed their home.

But this time there was reason to fear that the house would get better. After decades of destruction, reconstruction and more than 20 years of legal battles, Israel’s Supreme Court this month granted military permission to permanently evict more than 1,000 Palestinians here and rebuild land for the army’s firing range.

Less than a week after the High Court ruling, the Nazis’ home was demolished, which activists said would be the largest mass exodus of Palestinians. Occupied West Bank since the 1967 war, when thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from Israeli-occupied territory.

The court was overwhelmed by the historical documents presented by the lawyers on behalf of the Palestinians, proving that what they said was decades ago a proposal to establish a firing range to prevent Palestinians from claiming land.

“We had 30 minutes to figure out what we could do,” said Usara al-Najjar, who was born 60 years ago in a hand-cut cave on the same slope in the Negev Desert. He looked at the broken block and the pile of rolled metal that was his family home and wiped his hand with a slap. “It didn’t take long and our house was gone again.”

The devastation comes amid growing instability in Israel’s coalition government and the recent approval of more than 4,200 new housing units in Israeli settlements in the West Bank ahead of President Biden’s planned visit to Israel in June. . US State Department spokesman Ned Price, in response to a question about the high court’s ruling, urged both Israelis and Palestinians to refrain from escalating tensions. “It must include evictions,” he said.

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The European Union (EU) has called on Israel to end its use of force. A UN human rights panel has warned that “forced transfer” of residents would be considered “serious violations of international and humanitarian and human rights law”.

The Israeli Defense Ministry said in a statement that the destruction was in line with the Supreme Court’s year-long review and its unanimous decision in favor of the military.

The statement said, “The Supreme Court has fully accepted the position of the state of Israel and ruled that the petitioners are not permanent residents of the area.” “The court further noted that the petitioners rejected any of their proposed compromise efforts.”

The drawn-out battle for these arid rolling hills south of the biblical city of Hebron began in the 1980s, when Israeli officials claimed several areas in the West Bank for stated reasons for laying the groundwork for military training.

The 8,000- to 14,000-acre area – known as Masafer Yatta in Arabic and South Hebron Hills in English – was designated as Firing Zone 918.

“The critical importance of this firing zone to the Israeli Defense Forces stems from the unique topographic character of the area, which allows specific training methods for structures both small and large, from a squad to a battalion,” the military court document said. Reported by Times of Israel.

But human rights activists, both Palestinians and Israelis, claim that the real purpose of many of the firing zones is to evacuate Arab residents and strengthen Israeli occupation of the more occupied Palestinian territory. Often, the title has paved the way for the expansion of Israeli settlements, which is considered illegal by most of the international community.

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Archived minutes of a 1981 meeting recently obtained by researchers on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seem to support that view. According to a story in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, recorded by the then Minister of Agriculture – later Prime Minister – Ariel Sharon, “it is important to slow down the expansion of Arab villagers from the mountains.” “We have an interest in expanding and expanding the shooting zones, to keep these areas, which are very important, in our hands.”

The document was entered as legal evidence.

Israeli officials argued that residents of eight to 12 small villages in Zone 918 – most of them pastoralists living in tents who still winter in caves dug out of limestone – could not show legal ownership of the land.

What followed was a legal catch-22. Residents and their lawyers have repeatedly applied for permission to build homes and string power lines. Military officials say no one was allowed into the firing range, rejected requests and then sent regular armed destroyers to dismantle the “illegal” structure.

Authorities first issued eviction orders in 1999 but refrained from physically evicting families due to legal challenges. Instead, according to lawyers, repetitive destruction means the amount of strategic harassment that drives families away.

“I don’t think optics will allow us to see pictures of people being put in trucks,” said Dar Sadat of Betselm, an Israeli human rights organization that worked on the case. “What we see will be destroyed again and again, forcing the community to leave because they can no longer live there.”

Over the years, the court has reached compromises, one of which would allow evicted Palestinians to return to the field on Jewish holidays and at other times when there was no possibility of military training. Residents rejected those offers out of hand.

The High Court finally ended the challenge on May 5, unanimously ruling the military and finding that Palestinian families had failed to prove that they had a legal claim to their land or had lived there before designating it as a firing range.

“There are laws that work for Jews, but not for us,” said Nidal Younes, head of the Yatta village council in Masaf. Evictions are not subject to maintenance orders by Israeli settlers.

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In his village, Najjar shakes his head at the idea that he is a newcomer to the land where he says his grandparents dug a limestone pastoral shelter in the 1950s and where he was born in 1961.

Now she and her family have been sent back to the cave, which, like many families, has maintained for years as a kitchen and extra living space. As the number of Israeli settlers in the area increased and the incidents of vandalism and physical assault by settlers with them, they saw it as a refuge from violence.

The ordinary houses with their blocks and metal roofs have all been demolished.

Leaning towards a batch of traditional Labneh cheese under the solar-powered light, Najjar describes the most recent unannounced appearance of a bulldozer, escorted by more than a dozen soldiers with automatic weapons.

“They didn’t say why they were here, they didn’t give us any paperwork,” he said. “But we knew.”

The soldiers instructed the men of the family to stay away from the house while the women ran to grab the clothes and bed. They struggle with a washing machine. Many of their belongings were still inside when the soldiers told them to stand behind them.

Najjar said the bulldozers took less than two hours to level two houses and two sheep pens for seven families in the village. In all, the army demolished 20 installations in three villages that day, according to Basel Adra, a Palestinian activist who has documented IDF activity in the area.

The IDF did not say when it planned to carry out further destruction orders.

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