Forced evacuation is war crime: Palestinian activist in Masafer Yatta
In an exclusive interview, Palestinian activist, Basil Al-Adraa, speaks to Al Mayadeen English after the Israeli Supreme Court took the final decision to displace more than 2000 Palestinian families from the Palestinian village, Msafer Yatta, in the occupied West Bank.
On Wednesday, the Israeli Supreme Court denied all petitions challenging the forcible evacuation of more than 2000 Palestinians from Masafer Yatta, which "Israel" has officially proclaimed a closed military zone.
For at least 23 years, the Israeli occupation has been seeking to force Palestinians out of Masafer Yatta by designating 7,400 acres of privately held Palestinian agricultural land as "Firing Zone 918."
Residents of Masafer Yatta and human rights organizations say that many Palestinian families have resided in the 3,000-hectare territory continuously since before "Israel" occupied the West Bank in 1967. Their expulsion would be illegal under international law.
Individual or mass forceful transfers and deportations of protected individuals from occupied territory are unlawful under international law. As the occupying power, "Israel" is obligated to safeguard and not displace the Palestinian people.
Palestinian activist, Basil Al-Adraa, spoke to Al Mayadeen English in the event of the Israeli Supreme Court's decision.
"The decision was taken last night. It was published at midnight, which allows the army to use the land as they want, and the 'state', in general, [can] decide what they want to do with this land, and allow the people to do farming and do some agriculture work during the vacation or when the army is not using this land," explained Basil Al-Adraa.
Al-Adraa added, "It is [an] excuse, it is like a method because this community is not just, like, doing agriculture, they are living there, their homes, their schools, their clinics, their whole lives."
"The decision was to forcefully evict 2,800 people; about 12 [communities] that [were] declared in the 80s as a firing zone area. The communities for sure exist[ed] there for hundreds of years, and the Local Council approved the court [evidence] that proves [that] communities existed before the decision of the firing zone was taken."
A years-long plan
In 1999, "Israel" forced Palestinians out of their village, after declaring a "firing zone" will be established over their homes. At the time, the Palestinians made an appeal to the High Court that issued a temporary decision to allow the families back home until a final decision is made.
In 1981, years before the court's decision, Ariel Sharon, who was the Israeli Minister of Agriculture, announced during a ministerial meeting that "we have an interest in expanding and enlarging the shooting zones there, in order to keep these areas, which are so vital, in our hands."
Years later, the Israeli Supreme Court suspended the final verdict on the future of the village, which prohibited Palestinians from building permits, while the Israeli forces demolished several infrastructures belonging to the Palestinians.
"First eviction, like forced eviction, happened in 1999 when I was 3 years old... From 1999 until today, the army has demolished hundreds of homes, sheep shelters, water wells, and roads," Al-Adraa stated.
As an activist, he explained that "it’s hard and tough for me as an activist [to document] all these past years [of army’s demolitions] against the people; like cutting water pipes and demolishing schools, confiscating solar panels, and all the properties of the people, as well as cars and mobile clinics in order to make them leave."
Since 2011, Israeli soldiers have damaged or confiscated 217 Palestinian buildings in "Firing Zone 918," displacing 608 Palestinians, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
A brutal excuse
The Palestinian activist revealed that most seized lands were not used for declared purposes. "I just want to mention that 80% of the firing zones that were declared by the army in the 80s are not used. Like 80% of the land [in the occupied West Bank], they are not using them for the training, it’s just in order to kick people out of their homes," he emphasized.
He believes that the occupation has space for their so-called "firing zones", re-emphasizing that the evacuations are solely meant to displace Palestinians.
"It’s just like a technique for them to expel the people out and just want to mention that there is like two illegal Israeli settlement outposts, part of which are built in the firing zone and are connected to water, electricity. They are building homes and roads there, and they are living without any demolitions and [or] any legal actions from the state against them [occupation state]. It’s totally apartheid here; all the demolitions that are happening are against the Palestinians," Al-Adraa stated.
Daily Israeli military restrictions and harsh measures in Masafer Yatta continue to jeopardize people's personal security, reduce their standard of living, and increase their poverty and reliance on humanitarian help, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israeli forces have demolished or confiscated 217 Palestinian structures in "Firing Zone 918" since 2011, displacing 608 Palestinian inhabitants (OCHA). "Israel" has also designated roughly 30% of "Area C" in the occupied West Bank as "firing zones".
These territories contain at least 38 Palestinian communities. Many of the communities have lived in these areas for decades, long before the firing zones were established and even before "Israel" occupied the West Bank.