In Masafer Yatta, the Nakba is ongoing
On 11 May, Muhammad Ayoub Abu Sabha watched as the Israeli army bulldozed - without warning - his property in the village of Al-Fakheit in the occupied West Bank.
Within a few hours, soldiers levelled his home, water tank, chicken coop, and sheep barn - leaving him and his 19 relatives homeless.
Abu Sabha’s family weren’t the only ones left without shelter. Approximately 50 people slept without a roof over their head that night in the villages of Al-Fakheit and Al-Mirkez after 19 structures were razed.
Since then, another 19 demolition orders were issued in Masafer Yatta, the rural enclave south of Hebron, where these villages are located.
"Over 1,000 Palestinians face being forcibly displaced from their homes in Masafer Yatta"
This was just the beginning of a mass expulsion effort against more than 1,000 Palestinians in Masafer Yatta. Earlier this month, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a petition by the residents against their displacement from an area Israel designated a military training zone.
As Palestinians around the world mark 74 years since the Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic) - when Zionist militias forcibly expelled around 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and destroyed hundreds of villages - for many, it is a process that has never truly ended.
“The year 1948 is not the only year when [the] Nakba happened, but in fact is the beginning of the Nakba, the last Nakba against us a few days ago in #SaveMasaferYatta against +1000s of us,” Ali Awad, an activist from the village of Tuba in Masafer Yatta, wrote on Twitter, referring to the pending displacement of his community.
History of Masafer Yatta expulsions
The Israeli army declared 12 villages in Masafer Yatta a firing zone in the 1980s, labelling it ‘Firing Zone 918’. In 1999, the Israeli military amassed more than 700 residents into trucks and pushed them off their land.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) filed petitions to the Israeli High Court on behalf of the residents in 2000 and was granted an interim injunction, allowing the residents to temporarily return to their homes.
The 22-year-long battle has ended with the recent court ruling - paving the way for the army to displace the residents at any moment.
While all the villages are part of Israel’s designated firing zone, four of the villages - Tuba, Sirat 'Awad Ibrahim, Sarura, and Mufaqara - were allowed to remain in a 2012 decision whereby the Israeli Defence Ministry said that the land isn’t needed for military training.
Despite the ruling, Awad said these four villages are not immune to displacement. According to the activist, the army issued demolition orders for all structures built after 2012, so half of Tuba, for instance, is under threat of immediate demolition.
“[The court] made us feel more oppressed because we have done all that we can through our lawyers for 22 years. Twenty-two years should be enough proof that I live here and that I don't have another place to go,” the 24-year-old told The New Arab, noting how Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law, in the firing zone are not subject to demolition or evacuation.
Israel’s Ministry of Defence and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defence Ministry unit overseeing the West Bank and Gaza, did not respond to requests for comment.
ACRI lawyer Roni Pelli told The New Arab they are planning to file procedures for a rehearing next month, which means asking the Supreme Court to reconsider their decision. However, she noted that without the interim injunction in place, the residents now have no legal protection.
"The Israeli army declared 12 villages in Masafer Yatta a firing zone in the 1980s"
Abu Sabha was first displaced with his family in 1999 when the military served Al-Fakheit evacuation orders. The 46-year-old recalled a COGAT officer showing up to his village just as his uncle was delivering a tractor with a water tank.
“We were inside the cave eating, and then the officer arrived and said, ‘Let’s go, immediately’ and the army confiscated the tractor and took it to a military base,” Abu Sabha said. In the army’s possession, their tractor was destroyed.
The family spent the year with the army at their heels, getting kicked out of every village they moved to until the interim injunction let them return to Al-Fakheit in 2000.
Now, Abu Sabha fears they’ll be forced to flee again, especially if the military continues seizing their equipment.
“The intention is to not leave,” Abu Sabha said. “But if they confiscate our tractors, our sheep - like they’ve done before - if they take everything and just leave us in the desert naked, then we will be forced to leave.”
Israeli army and settler violence has intensified since the court ruling. Masafer Yatta activist Basil al-Addra was hospitalised on 8 May after five soldiers attacked him as he filmed them demanding a local resident demolish a structure.
On Friday, the residents of Masafer Yatta held a demonstration against the ruling, which was met with brutality. The military declared the protest’s centre a restricted military zone - blocking hundreds of activists from entering the Masafer Yatta rallying point.
Settlers from the illegal outpost of Mitzpe Yair chased demonstrators, swiped Palestinian flags from protesters, threw rocks, and kicked and pushed participants. Settlers smashed the window of a press vehicle.
A masked settler hit a Palestinian activist from one of the villages located in the firing zone with an iron object, breaking his nose. No arrests were made.
“The number of flying checkpoints leading to the entrances of these eight villages has increased, and it’s preventing people from reaching them,” Awad said. “So that will separate the residents from the rest of the Palestinian communities, which is another policy of the evacuation.”
The community of Masafer Yatta has been on edge since the court’s decision. Standing in a pile of rubble - the remains of his home - Abu Sabha explained that the most terrifying part of his community’s displacement is the slow pace of it.
“The biggest concern for all of us is that Israel maybe won’t evict us all at once. It would be too many international violations,” Abu Sabha said.
“What's scarier than a one-time evacuation is a daily evacuation that no one will give attention to. No one would feel it.”
Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist covering Palestine and Israel. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The National, and Gulf News.
Follow her on Twitter: @jess_buxbaum