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Military digger carrying rocks to block a road in Masafer Yatta., 19 Nov. 2017. Photo by Nidal Yunes, head of the Masafer Yatta Council and resident of Khirbet Jenbah.
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Israeli military imposes severe travel restrictions on 4 Palestinian communities in Masafer Yatta

Four Palestinian communities in the Masafer Yatta region of the South Hebron Hills have been under military-imposed travel restrictions since 9 November 2017. The communities – Khirbet al-Halawah, Khirbet Jenbah, Khirbet al-Fakhit and Khirbet al-Markez – are home to some 600 residents, about half of them minors. To leave the area, residents must now drive to a roadblock, leave their car, walk several hundred meters to the main road and then take a taxi to their destination.

These communities are not connected to running water and depend on water delivered in trucks by aid organizations every day. Because of the access restrictions, the organizations have not been able to deliver water since 15 November, and the residents have been suffering a water shortage. On Thursday, 9 November, at 9:00 A.M., military forces equipped with a digger arrived in the area. They blocked off the roads leading from Khirbet Jenbah, Khirbet al-Fakhit and Khirbet al-Halawah to the main road, Route 317, with dirt piles and rocks. This prevented residents from accessing the main road, but did not prevent travel between the communities.

After the military left, residents partially opened the roadblocks, allowing cars to get through. On 15 November, the military returned and blocked the roads again.

The military also gradually blocked off the roads linking between the communities: the exit from Khirbet al-Markez was sealed off on 15 November, the exit from Khirbet al-Halawah on 19 November, and Khirbet al-Fakhit on 20 November. That day, the military also blocked off a narrow alternate road that residents had cleared near one of the roadblocks, leading to the main road.

The roadblocks are still in place today (28 November). One was temporarily opened on 22 November to enable military forces to reach Khirbet al-Khalawah and demolish a home there. Once the demolition was completed, the forces blocked the road again.

Residents of these and other communities in Masafer Yatta have been suffering incessant harassment by Israel for decades. Israel does not allow them to connect to infrastructure and repeatedly demolishes their homes, in an attempt to drive them out of the area. In the late 1970s, the military declared a large area in the Masafer Yatta region, which is home to twelve Palestinian communities, as “Firing Zone 918”; in the 1990s, it expelled residents from their homes. These residents were permitted to return thanks to an injunction issued by Israel’s High Court of Justice in response to several petitions, which forbade the state from demolishing the homes pending resolution of the petitions. However, the authorities continue to harass residents of the area, in an attempt to drive them out.