Israel has begun demolitions and evictions of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta in the southern West Bank following a court ruling earlier this month that approved pushing out over 1,000 Palestinians to make way for a military training zone, according to reports Sunday.
The Washington Post and The Guardian reported that several homes and structures in the collection of villages had been destroyed in recent days
“We had 30 minutes to get out what we could,” Yusara al-Najjar, one resident who has lived in the area for decades, told the Post. “It took no time and our house was gone, again.”
The case of Masafer Yatta — or Firing Zone 918 — an agriculture area near Hebron in the West Bank, has been one of Israel’s longest-running legal battles.
The lives of thousands of Palestinians in a cluster of Bedouin communities in the southern West Bank have been on hold for more than four decades, ever since the land they cultivated and lived on was declared a military firing and training zone by Israel.
Since that decision in early 1981, residents of the Masafer Yatta region have weathered demolitions, property seizures, restrictions, disruptions of food and water supplies, as well as the lingering threat of expulsion.
That threat grew significantly after Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a long-standing expulsion order against eight of the 12 Palestinian hamlets forming Masafer Yatta — potentially leaving at least 1,000 people homeless.
Israel has argued that the residents only use the area for seasonal agriculture and that they had already rejected offers of compromise that would have given them occasional access to the land.
The Palestinians say that if implemented, the ruling opens the way for the eviction of all the 12 communities that have a population of 4,000 people, mostly Bedouins who rely on animal herding and a traditional form of desert agriculture.
The European Union has condemned the ruling, saying that “Settlement expansion, demolitions and evictions are illegal under international law.”
The West Bank has been under Israeli military rule for nearly 55 years. Masafer Yatta is in the 60 percent of the territory where the Palestinian Authority is prohibited from operating. The Palestinians want the West Bank to form the main part of their future state.
Jewish settlers have established outposts in the area that are not officially authorized by Israel but are protected by the military. Last fall, dozens of settlers attacked a village in the area, and a four-year-old boy was hospitalized after being struck in the head with a stone.