The area of Massafer Yatta, where a thousand Palestinians live spread over a dozen hamlets, is the scene of a long legal battle between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Israeli army, which has occupied the West Bank since 1967, wants to classify this sector, already called the “918 shooting range”, as a military zone, which has the effect of expelling the inhabitants.
On May 4, the Israeli Supreme Court sided with the military, ruling that eight villages in Massafer Yatta, located in the Judean Desert at the southern end of the West Bank, had been on range since 1980, opening up the way to the eviction of the inhabitants.
In the 1980s, the Israeli army declared that these 3,000 hectares would become a firing range for its soldiers, arguing that the area was not permanently inhabited.
Residents say they were there as early as the 19th century, long before the Israeli army occupied the West Bank from 1967.
First expelled from the area in 1999, they were allowed to return pending the Supreme Court’s decision.
Judge David Mintz ultimately ruled that the review of aerial photographs vindicated the military and that residents ‘failed to prove’ that they lived permanently in the area before it was declared shooting range.
Aged 60, Ali Mohammed Jabbarine has seen it all in this saga. He grew up in Jinba, a village in Massafer Yatta, when the territory was under Jordanian control, before the Israeli occupation, the declaration of a shooting range and the legal battle of the last two decades to try to continue to live in his reclusive hamlet.
– “Where to go?” –
But today, like other residents, he fears to see Israeli bulldozers disembarking to chase them away.
“We have no information about the demolition, it could happen at any time (…) We have nowhere else to go,” he told AFP in front of his one-storey hovel. room planted on a rocky field where the twelve members of his family live from their harvest and their herds of goats.
Massafer Yatta is isolated from the rest of the West Bank. The nearest paved road is an hour away by car, and only a few houses are connected to the electricity grid, with the Bedouins there often using solar panels as well.
Its inhabitants have seen Israeli settlements proliferate around Massafer Yatta.
“The settlers build hard. The authorities provide them with access to water and electricity, the army protects them”, plague Mr. Jabbarine.
For Nidal Younès, head of the council of Massafer Yatta, there is no doubt now: the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court will lead to the demolition of the hamlets.
“The inhabitants will no longer have access to their land (…) What the occupation is doing is contrary to international humanitarian law,” he said.
Despite international law, which considers settlement illegal, more than 475,000 people live in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, where some 2.7 million Palestinians live.
Israeli settlers live more specifically in “Area C” under Israeli military and civilian control.
For Roni Pelli, a lawyer working for the Israeli NGO ACRI, which defends the inhabitants of Massafer Yatta, the Jewish state “has been trying for years, directly or indirectly, to expel the Palestinians from Area C, and change the zoning for military purposes is one of the ways to achieve this”.
“They want my land and drive me out of here,” exclaims Ali, who fears having to abandon the place where he says he has always lived.