The diplomats tour today. (Photo: B’Tselem – Breaking the Silence)
B’Tselem, 19 October 2020
The representatives of 17 countries, including EU members as well as other countries, are currently visiting Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills, whose residents Israel is seeking to expel. Since 2000 the residents have been waging a legal struggle in Israel’s High Court of Justice. Last August, before the last hearing in the case, the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research revealed a document that proved what was already clear: Israel had declared the area a firing zone to facilitate the expulsion of its residents. The judges ignored that information and the residents are currently awaiting their ruling.
Heads of delegations and other diplomats are currently visiting Palestinian communities in the Masafer Yatta area in the South Hebron Hills, whose home Israel has declared as “Firing Zone 918”, in an effort to drive them out. Around 1,000 residents are awaiting a forthcoming ruling by Israel’s High Court of Justice in the latest petition in their
decades-long struggle against Israel’s attempts.
On the tour are representatives of the EU and of member states Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Ireland, as well as the UK, Norway, Switzerland and Canada, which concur with the EU’s position that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are unlawful and that Israel’s policy of forcible transfer of Palestinians is unacceptable. At the village of Khirbet al-Majaz, the participants are visiting the local school, built with EU funding, and meeting community leaders along with Nidal Younis, head of the Masafer Yatta local council, and Nasser Nawaj’ah, a resident of Susiya and Field Researcher for B’Tselem. The tour, which is adhering the most up-to-date Covid-19 safety guidelines, was organized by Israeli NGOs Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.
Breaking the Silence Executive Director Avner Gvaryahu said: “We have come here today to announce that we will not stand by while the State of Israel declares hundreds of people illegal residents in their own homes. We will not stay silent when soldiers are sent to expel people from their homes, in which they lived long before the first Israeli soldier set foot in the West Bank. We invite everyone to come here with us and look these people in the eye. That is more than the policymakers, who are forcing entire families to live in constant fear of being driven out of their homes, have ever done. This is expulsion. This is occupation.”
B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad added that “Israel has coveted Masafer Yatta for decades, viewing it as an area ready for exploitation were it not for what it perceives as the fly in the ointment – Palestinians who live in the area. The state wishes to expel all these families, demolish their homes and destroy their livelihoods, on one pretext or another. Declaring the area a firing zone was the excuse; cleansing the territory of Palestinians is the goal. This criminal plan must be stopped.”
The Khirbet al-Majaz community in Masafer Yatta. (Photo: B’Tselem – Breaking the Silence)
In the early 1980s, the Israeli military declared an area of about 3,000 hectares in the South Hebron Hills known as Masafer Yatta a restricted military zone, dubbed ‘Firing Zone 918’. At the time, dozens of Palestinian families had been living in the area for years, since before Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967. They lived in 12 small villages and earned a living as farmers and shepherds.