The barren desolation of the village of Fajit is just 50 kilometers south of Jerusalem, but it seems like the end of the world. The desert hills south of Hebron are burning as early as 9am on the first day of June as bulldozers raze Wadja Abu Shahar’s home. “My mother brought me into the world on this earth, and this dust is the first thing I breathed. I will never leave here,” moans this 60-year-old Palestinian surrounded by her family. The shovels of the bulldozer have just burst the tubes that supported the tents that served as accommodation and storage for tools. They replaced the constructions that 20 days before had been demolished by the so-called Civil Administration of the Army, body that manages the occupation of the Palestinian territories since 1967.
In the Masafer Yata region, soldiers and border police have made 68 Palestinians homeless at gunpoint, half of them minors, since the Supreme Court last month recognized the declaration as a 3,300-hectare firing range. dictated by the Armed Forces in 1981. The security forces have intensified the demolitions since the judges rejected the last appeal presented by more than a thousand inhabitants of the southern West Bank, now threatened with expulsion after having battled for more two decades in court against his eviction. In 1999, more than 700 Bedouin were forcibly displaced from their homes in the rocky hills south of Hebron, but the Israeli Supreme Court suspended the military eviction order and ordered them to return to their land. Now he has given the green light to the expulsion.
“Nothing is the same. We no longer have legal protection. The military can show up unannounced whenever they want to demolish again the constructions they consider illegal”, recognizes Nidal Abu Yunis, mayor of the Masafer Yata commonwealth, before the remains of the house of the peasant Wadja Abu Shahar. Another 12 inhabitants of the village were in the same situation, wondering where they were going to sleep that night.
The crushing of structures with heavy machinery prevents them from being reused. In an impromptu municipal council, Mayor Abu Yunis met urgently with the families of the village to organize the reconstruction after the demolitions. “We stay to continue resisting,” the councilor proposed to the neighbors.
Sheep and goats grazed on the rubble. Operators hired by the Civil Administration of the Army had recently removed the scant furniture and utensils of the Bedouins. Beds, stoves, and chairs lay in the sun as bulldozers razed one after another three sheds and two houses. From the fence of the county school, built thanks to donations from Italy, France and the United Kingdom, dozens of students watched the landscape of the village collapse.
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“Ayub, Nahgan, Fadi and Shadin will sleep in the open tonight”
“Ayub, nine years old; Nahgan, 12; Fadi, 12, and Shadin, 14, are going to sleep in the open tonight,” Haitam Abu Sabah, 43, director of the educational center where a hundred primary and secondary school children from Masafer Yata study . “We no longer know how to help these children in a state of shock; demolitions are becoming a routine”, detailed the director together with two other teachers. “They stopped having a normal life a long time ago,” he sentenced under the photographs of Yasir Arafat, the historic Palestinian leader, and Mahmud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. “Israel boasts of being a State of law, but only fait accomplis apply to us,” protested Abu Sabah, before arguing: “And Europe, which helped us build this school, now looks the other way and only has eyes for Ukraine”.
The EU Delegation (Embassy) for Palestine has warned via Twitter that the decision of the Supreme Court represents a breach of international law, since, as an occupying power, Israel has the obligation to protect the civilian population. In the United States, 83 Democratic senators and congressmen have approached the State Department to prevent the expulsion of the Masafer Yata Palestinians, reports the israeli daily Ha’aretz.
Palestinian, Israeli and foreign activists risk the type daily across the field to document the expulsions. They are forced to navigate impassable tracks in off-road vehicles to prevent soldiers from confiscating their vehicles for breaking into the military firing range. They document the repeated drama experienced by Bedouin families in the sun, seeing their homes razed to the ground and living under constant threat of expulsion. Israeli peace activist Yasmin Eran Baradi, 22; the Palestinian photographer of Masafer Yata Nasser Nawayeh, 34, or the Argentine volunteer Bruno (he declines to provide his surname), 38, a member of the Christian NGO Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, They are some of those who record videos and take images that reach the UN Human Rights Council.
“Our main mission is to prevent the suffering of the civilian population,” summarizes Nawayeh, who collaborates with the Israeli NGO B’Tselem. “Our people are beginning to take seriously that after the Supreme Court’s decision things are going to get worse,” she warns. From Geneva, the special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Francesca Albanase, has warned along with other UN experts that “placing the residents of Masafer Yata at risk of forced displacement and arbitrary expulsion represents a violation of the international humanitarian law”. “The Supreme Court has given the Israeli government carte blanche to perpetuate the oppression of the Palestinians,” she stresses. Albanese rapporteur, who highlights that the violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the forced displacement of the population in occupied territory, can constitute a war crime.
For Israel, which exclusively controls 60% of the West Bank included in the so-called Area C of the Oslo Agreements (1993), the Bedouins of Masafer Yata are nomads who have not resided permanently in that region, included in Area C, whose management escapes the Palestinian Authority. The Supreme has ended up recognizing the allegations of the Armed Forces that the lands in the hills south of Hebron were uninhabited when the area was declared a shooting and maneuvering range, and that the current occupants should be evicted for security reasons. The Israeli authorities, however, have authorized or tolerated the construction of Jewish settlements in the immediate vicinity of the military zone, such as the Maon settlement or the wild settlement (not recognized by the Government) of Havat Maon.
The nearby Palestinian village of Um al Jair, with a hundred residents, is separated by a security fence from the adjoining settlement of Carmel (450 inhabitants). The Palestinian herders allege that they bought their land in 1948, newly arrived from the desert area of Adar, northeast of the Negev, after being expelled from the newly created State of Israel. Jewish settlers founded the moshav (cooperative farm) of Carmen in 1982 on land expropriated from the Bedouins of Um al Jair, where the Civil Administration of the Army systematically denies the construction license for security reasons.
A fifth of Area C has been declared a military zone for firing ranges and maneuvers since the beginning of the occupation. “Delimiting a sector as a maneuver zone is a common preliminary step to expel the Palestinian population from a part of the West Bank,” says the Israeli peace NGO B’Tselem. “The next step is to later cede part of the territory to settler organizations to build settlements.”
War scene in the rubble
Masafer Yata’s village of Markaz is now a theater of war. The demolitions in May are interspersed with the demolitions carried out on the first day of June. “They desperately want us to leave here,” says Mohamed al-Nayar, 67, who has just witnessed the destruction of his tents and temporary agricultural sheds, along with seven other residents of the village. His wife refuses to speak to visitors as she stares blankly at his couch in a rubble-strewn vacant lot. Al Nayar, meanwhile, tries to clean himself under the tap in a kitchen sink that is still standing.
“Where are you going to sleep tonight?”
—In a cave, as if it were a tomb, replies Al Nayar, who points to the hollow excavated in a clearing.
His family struggles to reconnect the well pump so that the water flows through the sink, miraculously intact among the rubble of Markaz as an unlikely symbol of permanence. The more than 1,000 Bedouins of this barren land weigh the threat of one of the largest forced displacements of the population since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, which is now 55 years old.
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