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From the field

Holding On To Our Homes, Masafer Yatta

עבר עוד יום בלי שגורשנו


Dear friend, 

Thank God… another day has gone by without being expelled”, a 50-year-old Palestinian woman from the area of Masafer Yatta said to me. She lives in the South Hebron Hills, in an area the Israeli military has designated “Firing Zone 918”. When I asked how she and the rest of the community were holding up, she said, “We’re used to the harsh life of the desert. We’re used to living without electricity or water and walking for many miles. We shelter against the cold of winter and the heat of summer in our tents. We’re used to leading a simple life on our land, by our sheep. We don’t have grand dreams about castles, playgrounds, or swimming pools for our children. Our dreams are small: to live in peace on our land, without fear or worry.”


The woman described living under constant threat and a feeling of transience, where Israel defines her mere presence as a violation of the law. She described having her hopes for a peaceful life dashed, along with hundreds of other Palestinians scattered in 12 communities in the area, whom Israel is trying to drive out. 

Firing Zone 918 - An Exercise in War Crimes

Nothing distinguishes this woman and her neighbors from other Palestinian communities in the West Bank. Throughout the area, Israel is taking over more and more land under flimsy pretexts, such as declaring land a firing zone or an archeological site, or claiming illegal construction – all with the aim of making residents’ lives unbearable by condemning them to constant anxiety and forcing them to leave their homes, in order to take over their land. By sending its soldiers to harass these residents, Israel is shirking its moral duty and legal obligation, under international law, to protect them – which includes providing basic services such as electricity, water and roads, and allowing them to build their homes. This is yet another manifestation of Israel’s policy to deny Palestinians’ the right to live on the land where they were born and raised.


The residents of Masafer Yatta are now awaiting a High Court ruling in a 20-year legal process that has prevented the state from expelling them, but has also put their lives on hold. For 20 years, they have not been allowed to build homes for their children, expand their livestock pens or even add a new toilet.


Documents recently uncovered by the Akevot Institute show that the state targeted this specific location, where Palestinians had been living for generations, and declared it a firing zone specifically in order to facilitate their expulsion. Yet the High Court refused to discuss this revelation, instead pressuring the residents to reach a “compromise” with the state that would allow the military to train in the area. The court ordered the residents to negotiate with the state over when they would be allowed to stay on their land and when they would have to leave, ostensibly with their consent, so the occupation army could train in their territory, right by their houses and flocks.


What will happen once the justices issue their ruling and the military trains in the area? The residents will be expelled from their homes and Israel will expand its borders even more, taking over more land and providing settlers with the lives they desire — free from the unwanted presence of the original inhabitants. No more sheep bleating, no more smoke from bread baking on a taboon, no more Arabic spoken. Let them speak Arabic somewhere else. Masafer Yatta is ours. Where to next?



Musa Abu Hashhsash 
B’Tselem field researcher

More of our work in recent months:
  • For 100 days, Maher al-Akhras from the West Bank village of Silat a-Dhahr has been on hunger strike to protest his administrative detention — one of the most extreme measures Israel employs against Palestinians. He is now on the verge of death. Israel refuses to release him and agrees, at most, to pledge not to extend his detention order after it expires in late November, unless new information is received. Al-Akhras refuses to end the strike on these conditions and has announced he will stop only if he is released. Israel’s Supreme Court has chosen not to order the state to release him, relying on legal constructs to rule that his condition does not justify release. The responsibility for what happens next lies with those who can prevent the prisoner’s further deterioration and even death. They can still choose to do so.
  • Four days into the school year, the Civil Administration confiscated the tin plates that served as the roof of an elementary school in Ras al-Tin, a community lying east of Ramallah. The forces also took away 30 chairs and 12 desks, forcing  pupils to sit on the ground to study in the scorching sun. The school, whose construction was completed, is in danger of demolition. This is no exception: in recent months, we have documented demolition after demolition of homes in Palestinian communities, including those facing expulsion, as well as residents demolishing their own homes in East Jerusalem, demolition of stores and public structures, and confiscation of equipment. These actions have left entire families homeless or robbed of an income, all as part of an Israeli policy to take over more land and drive Palestinians out of their homes.
  • ‘Abd a-Rahman Jabarah, 22, lost his left eye and is in danger of losing sight in the other. The injury occurred in August, when Jabarah was sitting in a car and a Border Police officer fired at his head through the windshield. Why? Apparently, because the officers mistook him for a “wanted person”. Israel’s whitewashing mechanism, this time in the form of a DIP investigation, is already hard at work justifying Jabarah’s lifechanging injury.
  • The mind boggles: Israeli soldiers planted IEDs within the territory of Kafr Qadum, where activists have been holding weekly protests for years against the closure of the main entrance to the village. The soldiers covered the explosives with stones and fabric. A group of women and children strolling in the area found the suspicious objects and alerted other locals. By sheer luck, no one was hurt. In response to questions by Ha’aretz reporters Hagar Shezaf and Yaniv Kubovich, the IDF Spokesperson unabashedly stated that soldiers had planted the explosives “in an uninhabited, open area where violent disturbances of the peace have been taking place regularly for several years”, in order to “create deterrence”. Even in an area where military retaliation is routine, planting IEDs is an exceptional step that conveys utter disregard for Palestinians’ lives.
  •  Throughout August and September 2020, B’Tselem received many reports of severe violence by settlers against Palestinians, including violent incursions into villages, harassment of residents at their doorstep or in pastureland, bodily harm and damage to property. Many victims remained traumatized and anxious, and had to pay thousands of shekels to repair the damage caused by the settlers. This unbridled violence in the West Bank has been fully backed by the state for years.
  • On Thursday, 9 July 2020, 34-year-old Ibrahim Abu Ya’qub was fatally shot by Israeli soldiers while strolling with his friends in the village of Kifl Hares. According to the military, the soldiers fired at Palestinians who had hurled a Molotov cocktail at an army post near the entrance to the village. B’Tselem’s investigation found that the soldiers opened fire indiscriminately while pursuing two teens, injuring one of them and killing passerby Abu Ya’qub. In doing so, they showed utter indifference to the predictably fatal outcome of opening fire inside a civilian community.
  • The Abu Hashhsash family suffer military night raids on their homes in al-Fawwar Refugee Camp, accompanied by severe physical violence and extensive harm to members. Last month, dozens of soldiers invaded the family’s home again, breaking one son’s nose, beating another son and taking him into custody on a stretcher. Violently beating Palestinians who do not pose any risk to soldiers or resist arrest has long been integral to the routine of the occupation.
  • The Gaza Strip is on the brink of collapse due to the blockade and the scarcity imposed by Israel. We recently spoke again to the families of fishermen dealing with this collective punishment, which includes limiting the fishing range, opening fire at fishermen, confiscating boats and severely damaging their families’ livelihoods. In August 2020, after militants continued to launch explosive-laden balloons from Gaza into Israel, Israel limited the fishing range in southern Gaza even further and even banned fishing entirely for several days. The B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd about
  • In an Israeli attack on Gaza in 14 August 2020, the military fired two “warning missiles” at a compound belonging to the Hussein family in al-Bureij Refugee Camp. These relatively small missiles are allegedly fired to warn civilians of an impending strike and give them time to get away. The use of “warning missiles” demonstrates how unreasonable it is to expect civilians to grasp within minutes, in the dead of night, amid panic and confusion, what they must do to in order to save their families, including young children, while forced to leave their property behind knowing that destruction awaits. Four of the houses in the compound were damaged and two children injured in the attack: Rafif Hussein (3) was hit in the head and leg and Baraa Hussein (11) in the head, and both required hospitalization. The damage to the homes included shattered windows, cracked walls and destroyed belongings. B’Tselem reiterates that Israel’s policy of airstrikes in Gaza, which has caused thousands of casualties, has a black flag flying over it. It is unlawful and immoral.
  • On 20 October 2020, we sent a letter along with 16 other human rights and civil society organizations in Israel to Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi. This followed an unprecedented decision by the ministry to stop issuing visas for foreign nationals employed by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). As Israel fully controls entry into the Occupied Territories, OHCHR staff need these visas from it. In the letter, we demanded the ministry revoke the decision and renew the issuance of visas to enable OHCHR’s routine operations. 
B'Tselem in the media:

Hunger-striking Palestinian close to death, family says, Oliver Holmes, The Guardian

Israel refuses to release Palestinian 'on verge of death' after almost 80 day hunger strike, Gemma Fox, Independent

Palestine's olive harvest marred by rising Israeli settler violence, Alessandra Bajec, The New Arab

Number of Palestinians made homeless by Israeli demolitions hits four-year high despite pandemic, Independent

Israel's Cynical Exploitation of Palestinian Dead Bodies, Hagai El-Ad, B’Tselem Executive Director, Haaretz

Israeli NGOs demand government allow UN rights monitors, Joe Dyke, The Middle East

EU calls on Israel not to demolish Palestinian herding villages, Tovah Lazaroff, The Jerusalem Post

The dehumanization is the point, Sarit Michaeli, +972 Magazine

Israeli Soldiers Placed Explosives in West Bank Village for ‘Deterrence’, Hagar Shezaf & Yaniv Kubovich, Haaretz

Israeli soldier’s plea deal in fatal shooting faces scrutiny, Josef Federman, Associated Press/The Washington Post

When a Palestinian life is worth 3 months menial labor, Amit Gilutz, B'Tselem Spokesperson,