Palestinians in the southern Hebron mountains Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Next Monday the justices of the High Court of Justice will discuss the State of Israel’s demand to destroy eight Palestinian hamlets in the southern West Bank. I should say: will once again discuss, because the government’s demand is not new.
For about 40 years the Israel Defense Forces and the Civil Administration did everything in their power to make these communities disappear, while they, in their heroic and prolonged battle against the order to become extinct, also turned to legal channels and to petitions. In military Hebrew, the area designated for demolition and the eviction of its Palestinian residents is known as Firing Zone 918. In ordinary Arabic and Hebrew it is Masafer Yatta.
Now the High Court justices are being asked to decide once and for all what comes first: an area for military training exercises, or an ancient fabric of life and relations between a city and the villages that grew up around it.
The “what comes first” is a question of chronology, principle and ethics. Israel claims that the firing zone was declared as such in 1980 and the residents are “illegal squatters” who settled there afterwards. The geo-historical facts, which are not subject to dates, maps and the overt and covert intentions of the occupying power, indicate otherwise.
The rural roots of the city of Yatta, already in the Ottoman period, are not in doubt. Sheep herding and agriculture were the basis of its existence and the cultural heritage of its families. Its expansion and the urbanization process it has undergone are natural phenomena. In the second half of the 19th century there were about 2,000 residents. Today there are almost 70,000. The overall area of its land, which was recognized and determined long before 1967, is 170,000 dunams.
The constant increase in the number of residents and the size of the flocks led to the creation of rural offshoots, by people searching for more available land for grazing and planting, and additional sources of water or a place to dig a new cistern to collect rainwater.