After 22 years of deliberation, the Occupation’s High Court decides to forcibly displace the Palestinian citizens of Masafer Yata villages

After 22 years of deliberation, the Occupation’s High Court decides to forcibly displace the Palestinian citizens of Masafer Yata villages


In its decision on Wednesday evening, May 4, 2022, the Israeli occupation’s high Court rejected all the petitions submitted in the year 2000 by the Palestinian citizens of the 12 villages of Masafer Yata, south east of Hebron city. Furthermore, the court decided to forcibly displace all of them despite the fact that they have presented all the required legal, historical and geographical evidence.

The ruling of the Supreme Court came in conjunction with the memory of the catastrophe of the Palestinian people who were expelled from their villages, cities and land in May 1948 at the hands of Zionist gangs that destroyed more than 531 Palestinian villages. In the event that the occupation implements its threat to displace the citizens of Masafer Yata villages, this will be considered one of the largest forced displacement and expulsion of the civilian population in the occupied territories since 1967.

The citizens of Masafer Yata villages summed up the court’s decision by saying, “We fought in the Supreme Court for twenty-two years in order to defend our lands, homes and properties, but it only took five minutes for the judiciary to issue the expulsion decision”.

A number of petitioners during their participation at the last session of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem – prior to the issuance of the displacement decision.

Masafer Yata:

 The twelve villages threatened with deportation are located southeast of Yata town, and belong to the town and have been considered an integral part of it since ancient time. These are the villages of Jinba, Markaz, Al Hillah, Al Fakhit, Al Tabban, Al Majaz, Maghayer Al Abeed, Sfai Al Fawqa, Sfai Al Tahta, Al Toba, Khallet Al Dabaa and Al Mufqarah. The population of these villages, according to the statistics of the Masafer Yata Village Council, is about 2500 people, spread over an area estimated at about 32,000 dunums.

The citizens of these villages have been living there for long time and, certainly, before the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, and they have been making living on raising livestock and cultivating their lands.

In 1997, these lands were classified as Area C according to the Oslo Agreement signed in 1993. Accordingly, the Palestinian citizens were not allowed to increase or develop building to meet the natural population growth in that particular area. It is worth noting that the occupation authorities have notified the demolition of all buildings, homes and facilities of citizens in these targeted villages and have already carried out several demolition campaigns there, and categorically refused to consider granting building permits on the pretext that the area is classified as a firing zone and is prohibited for construction. The affected citizens have tried to prepare planning and organization schemes for their villages, which may contribute to the possibility of licensing them, but the law of occupation in this regard stipulates that starting any planning process in an area designated as a firing zone requires  prior permission from the Israeli military commander of the region. Since the eighties, the occupation authorities have declared the area a military training zone – firing zone number 918 – and this matter is seen by specialists as one of the methods to impose more Israeli control over the lands. In August 1999, military orders were issued to expel and deport the citizens from the area to make way for the training of the military forces based on the occupational military laws that allow the deportation of non-permanent residents from the firing zones, and the occupation authorities ignored the fact that these residents are permanent residents on their lands. As an implementation of the aforementioned military orders the occupation army,  on November 16, 1999, deported the citizens from their villages, by forcibly loading them into trucks and transporting them to the outskirts of Yata town, and, then destroying their homes, cisterns …etc.

The most prominent legal procedures that this case went through in court[1]:

After the above mentioned  dismissal and demolition process the citizens petitioned the Supreme Occupation’s Court through the Association for Citizens’ Rights (Acri) demanding to return to their villages, so the court issued its temporary decision to bring them back to their villages and homes until another final order is issued in the case.

In 2002, the occupation authorities presented a proposal to transfer the citizens to another area and mediations took place between the two parties at the end of which the citizens refused to accept the offer.

The case was reopened in 2012, when the occupying power announced that it would present to the court a concept depended on the position of the Israeli Minister of Internal Security on the case which was based on the idea ” that it is difficult to keep the citizens of eight to nine villages in that area, and instead they are allowed to work on their lands twice a year, one month each”. By so doing, the Supreme Court canceled the previous petitions, while retaining the right of the residents to file new petitions regarding this view of the Minister of Interior.

In January 2013, the citizens submitted a new petition to the Supreme Court, through the Association for Citizens’ Rights (Acri), which issued a temporary order prohibiting their forced displacement until another decision is issued.

In 2013, the judges of the Supreme Court recommended that the two parties enter into mediation to reach a satisfactory agreement, and the mediation was led by the retired judge “Isaac Zamir”. The two parties informed the court that no agreement had been reached, as the citizens rejected the submitted proposals and insisted on their entitlement to their lands. The Mediation ended on 1/2/2016, then, the court set the date of 23/3/2016 to hold a session in order to take a decision about the latest petition. However, the day after the mediation stopped, and on 2/2/2016, the occupation authorities launched a major demolition campaign against the citizens’ homes and agricultural facilities in the villages of Jinba, Markaz and Al Hilla, For more information, please see the report issued by the Land Research Center at the time, click here.

While the above demolition campaign was going on the citizens thought that the occupation authorities began to enforce their threat to evict them, so they quickly submitted a petition to the Supreme Court of the occupation through the “Catholic Center for Human Rights – St. Yves” institution, to stop this action. The “Rabbis for Human Rights” association submitted another petition in favor of the local citizens at the end of which the court issued a temporary decision to stop the demolition process until another ruling is taken.

In 2017, the court asked the occupation authorities to indicate the minimum number of days that the army needs for training, and the response was (between 8-20 days per month), while the Association for Citizens’ Rights clarified that the occupation army did not respond to the inquiries requested by the court on the importance and necessity of using this area to carry out training for the army in light of the presence of other alternatives.

In the year 2021, the Masafer Yata village council joined the petition submitted as a “friend of the court” in which it provided live testimonies of the residents’ presence on a permanent basis before declaring the area in question as a firing zone. It also attached its testimony to legal documents, historical and geographical analyzes, and urban interpretations that prove the permanence of the residents’ presence in this area since the British Mandate over Palestine -1923-1948-. Among the documents and evidence presented by the village council are what they called “my grandfather’s notebooks,” which are handwritten pamphlets containing the names of debtors to the grocery shop that a citizen owned in Khirbet Jinba at the time. They also submitted all documents proving their ownership of land, including research conducted by the “Israeli Ministry of Defense” in 1985, which mentioned the existence of the ruins of Masafer Yata and the nature of the inhabitants’ life in caves in that area. But, the court ignored all these testimonies and documents, and issued a ruling claiming that “the applicants could not prove their presence permanently before declaring the area a military training area,” as the court was not convinced of the historical right and permanent presence of the Palestinian people in these areas, and, eventually, issued an order to evacuate them, which is considered a forced eviction of civilian citizens protected by the international law.

Photo: “My grandfather’s notebooks” presented by the Masafer Yata Council as one of the proofs of the Palestinian continuous existence in Masafer Yata – Source: Wafa News Agency

A further legal attempt is possible 

Although the decision has been issued by the highest judicial body in the occupying power, and although the lawyers entrusted with this file have confirmed that this ruling was final, and it couldn’t be appealed, there remains a glimmer of hope for a legal attempt whose success is not much expected , that is, the ” submission of a request to the Supreme Court to hold an additional and expanded discussion session before a panel of judges to discuss the court’s decision issued by the three judges”, and according to the law of the court, this request ends by 19/5/2022. The subject of the renewed discussion request should be “that the court didn’t take into consideration the humanitarian issues in its decision, and claimed that the displacement of residents from their villages is not considered forced displacement because they own alternative housing in Yata town, and that there is a legal blemish in the court’s decision…etc”.

In such a case -a request for an extended discussion of a decision issued by the Supreme Court- the decision is discussed by judges whose number is nine, eleven or thirteen, and the number of judges who issued the ruling on 4/5/2022 was only three, two of them are settlers living in illegal settlements according to the international law. The aforementioned request was submitted through the Acri before the expiry of the legal period granted to submit such a request.

In case the occupation authorities insist on carrying out the process of displacing the population, it is expected that the new displacement process will not be like the one that took place in the year 2000, when the occupation army brought in trucks and moved the residents out of the Musafer area and demolished water wells and houses. Rather, it is expected that in the next demolition a curfew is imposed on the area, the roads leading to the target villages are cut off, and the area is completely besieged and isolated from the outside world until the evacuation process is completed.

The citizens, also, expect that the occupation authorities may restore to a gradual pressure and demolition policy to avoid international criticism. This policy encompasses the inclusion of more complications to the lives of the local people, such as preventing them from accessing pastures, razing roads, blocking the passage of any trucks or tractors, water tanks, food supply as well as implementing the demolition orders issued against their homes and facilities which were protected by a temporary precautionary order previously issued by the Supreme Court. These expectations were evident on 11/5/2022 when the occupation authorities demolished a number of houses, agricultural facilities and barns in both Al-Fakhit and Al-Marqaz.

Photo: Demolition of a number of houses and facilities in both Al-Fakhit and Al-Marqaz, May 11, 2022

The occupation’s objectives in displacing the residents of Masafer Yata villages[2]:

  1. Displacement means forcibly deporting about 2,500 Palestinian citizens from their living places and this is a permanent strategic Israeli goal- land without people-.
  2. The demolition of homes and properties of citizens means that the occupation authorities will gradually seize an area of about 32,000 dunums of Yata’s lands, and this will decrease the area of land on which the future Palestinian state is supposed to be established.
  3. This demolition, deportation and appropriation mean providing additional areas for illegal Israeli settlement by establishing new settlements or expanding the existing ones without facing any obstacles or objections from the Palestinian side.
  4. The decision to declare the land as a military training zone is a license for killing any Palestinian citizen entering there without incurring any legal consequences. On other word, it is a declaration of war on the citizens of that target area.
  5. Preventing Palestinian, foreign and Israeli solidarity activists from entering the area and even threatening them with death under penalty of persecution for illegally entering a declared military training area.
  6. The Masafer Yata Village Council indicated in the petition to the Supreme Court that there is a hidden political goal for the occupation authorities, which is to link the areas of the northern Negev with the areas of the southern West Bank and this necessitates emptying the area of its citizens.

The occupation bulldozers work on building roads and infrastructure near
the village of Jinba in close proximity to the Green Line – May 2022.

Forced displacement in legal perspective:

According to specialists in Israeli military law applicable in the 1967 occupied territories this law prohibits the expulsion of permanent residents from a firing zone, but the Supreme Court ruled that residents of the area do not meet this standard and said in its response “The petitioners have no property rights recognized in these areas, they are intruders who use these areas for grazing”. The court further claimed that “the evacuation will also serve the personal safety of the residents, due to the presence of the army in the area[3].

The citizens reject this claim, and reject the decision of the Supreme Court, which ignored their historical right to their land and homes – as we mentioned previously – and cling to their land, homes and villages that lack the minimum necessities of life in the twenty-first century, as the occupation have prevented any rehabilitation or infrastructure work in those villages such as water networks, electricity, roads, health services, etc. Concerned legal experts see the eviction of the population as a forced displacement.

The International law defines forced displacement as ” the illegal eviction of a group of individuals and populations from the land on which they reside, and forced displacement is a serious violation of the international law, and amounts to a war crime“. It is, also, defined as: “The occupation authority or its affiliates and tools implement illegal procedures or follow illegal methods and policies that cause a change in the demographic structure in a particular region”.

Therefore, international law prohibits forced displacement and punishes its perpetrators in compliance with the following legal articles:

 Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 stipulates that mass forcible transfer as well as deportation of protected persons from occupied territories to the territory of the occupying power or to the territory of any other occupied or non-occupied country is prohibited, regardless of its motive.

  1. The previous article also permitted the occupying power to carry out a complete or partial evacuation of a specific area if this is required for the security of the population and for the sake of their protection or for compelling military reasons, and noted the necessity of bringing back the evacuees to their homes as soon as hostilities stop in the concerned area. However, the occupation authorities consider these lands as necessary “to raise the competencies required for the army,” indicating that there is no war necessity necessitating this displacement, and according to the international law, the occupying power is not permitted to turn the occupied lands into a training ground for its forces, nor is it entitled to use the occupied lands for general military purposes, such as “raising the competencies and combat capabilities of its forces.”
  2. It is expected that the displacement of the residents of Masafer Yata villages will be followed by the demolition of their homes and agricultural facilities and the destruction of their property, similar to what happened in the previous displacement process in 1999. Therefore, Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits this destruction, and states: “It is prohibited for the Occupying Power to destroy real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, except in cases where this destruction is absolutely necessary for military operations.” What Israel intends to do is considered a breach of this legal article, as there is no military necessity for this destruction.
  3. Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention indicates that the unlawful deportation and transfer of protected civilian citizens, or the destruction or usurpation of property protected by the Convention, is a grave breach.
  4. Article VII, paragraph (d) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court considered that the deportation or forcible transfer of a population constitutes a crime against humanity” when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population. It is no secret that the occupation authorities are carrying out arbitrary practices against the civilian population in the villages of Masafer Yata to force them to leave their lands.

[1] Displacement of the residents of Masafer Yata villages south of Hebron – Two decades of struggle, a report issued by the Association for Citizens Rights, March 2022

[2] Barak’s decision to demolish 10 Palestinian villages – a need for training or permission to kill and deport, a report issued by the Land Research Center, 2012 AD.

[3] The Independent Arabic newspaper, website, issue dated 6/5/2022



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