Outside the city of Hebron is already an example of Israeli settlements encroaching on Palestinian territory, home to a seemingly unremarkable group of Palestinian Bedouins.
but here, in Massafar Yattalocal families are trying to stop the largest displacement of Palestinians in decades as Israeli forces try to forcibly remove them.
Muhammed Musa Shahada and his family were among dozens of people threatened with deportation.
“I was born in the village of Al-Majaz, why did I leave my land against my will? Why do I have to go through another cataclysm?” Shahada, 61, told Al Jazeera, referring to the fact that Israel was founded in 1948. resulting in the forced displacement and death of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
Al-Majaz, home to 350 people, including 50 children, is only accessible via a dirt road and has no connection to electricity or water lines, as Israeli authorities consider the settlement an “illegal” existence.
On 4 May, the Israeli High Court rejected a petition filed by Masafer Yatta’s family to block the deportation of 1,300 Palestinians living in 12 communities in the area, including Al-Majaz.
The decision was criticized by lawyers and legal experts who said the court’s ruling violated the blocking expel civilians from occupied territories.
The Israeli High Court has argued that the expulsion may have been necessary and legal for security reasons.
In addition to the 60 percent of the occupied West Bank territory, Masafer Yatta is part of the so-called “Zone C”, which is in complete control of the Israeli occupation And it was mostly reserved for Jewish settlers.
Masafer Yatta is also part of about 18 percent of the occupied West Bank, which has been declared a “shooting zone” by the Israeli military and is used as a closed area for military training.
Despite the existence of Palestinian villages, Masafer Yatta has been part of land designated as a “918 shooting area” since the 1980s.
Details of a 1981 Israeli ministerial meeting show that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, then agriculture minister, proposed the creation of the 9/18 shooting zone to deport local Palestinians.
Israel said the Palestinian community living in Masafer Yatta could not prove they were permanent residents despite evidence that the 1981 conference plan forced them to leave their land.
In the face of a 1999 eviction order, local Palestinians were still able to stay in their homes, as a temporary injunction by the High Court allowed them to remain there until the court made a final decision.
For 20 years, families in Masafer Yatta, such as the Shahadas, have fought in Israeli courts to remain on the land, refuting claims they are not permanent residents.
eviction and return
“In 1999, the army arrived in Masafujata with trucks,” Shahada said. “They forced us to get into trucks and leave our house and land – but we came back at night, walking and riding donkeys until we got to our tent and house.”
Shahada’s testimony was supported by others in Masafer Yatta.
“At the end of 1999, the residents here were mistreated by the army, who destroyed houses and even caves where people lived, confiscated goats and closed roads between villages in the area,” said Nidal Younis, chairman of the Masafer Yatta village council.
“Our policy is to terrorize us every day, with the help of [Jewish] Settlers. “
Younis explained that the High Court’s decision to enforce the 1999 order would mean giving up all their villages.
This will result in the expulsion of the local Palestinian Bedouin community, amounting to what Younis calls “ethnic cleansing” and the destruction of Bedouin society.
“Despite the oppression we face, despite having documents proving we own the land, the Israeli courts have ruled against us and in favor of the Israeli army,” Younis said.
The court also ruled that each petitioner’s family must pay court costs of 20,000 shekels ($5,900).
The Israeli army is now conducting military exercises, demolishing and confiscating homes almost daily, forcing many families in Masafer Yatta to return to the caves they once lived in decades ago.
It was the use of these caves in the area by past generations of Palestinian Bedouin that led the Israeli High Court to reject the community’s permanent residency in the area, despite evidence to the contrary.
“We are constantly facing Israeli attacks, and we are harassed by the army even when we are herding sheep in the mountains,” Shahada said.
“But despite all the hardships, living in this land is like living in Paris for me,” he said.
Israeli settlers attacked Masafuya Tower at night and set fire to houses and tents, according to local Palestinians.
Protests by local and foreign activists were also attacked by settlers and the Israeli military on Friday, and was witnessed by Al Jazeera.
Since 2011, Israeli authorities have demolished or confiscated 217 buildings belonging to Palestinians in Masafer Yatta, displacing 608 Palestinians, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“Is there a law that allows the military to train in areas where people live? I don’t think so,” Shahada said.
“After the court’s recent decision to expel us, I feared every moment that the army would come and expel me. It was a hardship I could not bear,” he said.
Israel considers all permanent buildings Built without Israeli permission Illegal — and these permits are notoriously difficult for Palestinians to obtain.
More demolitions and seizures are expected in the coming days, according to the court’s ruling.
Shahada’s wife, Aisha Abu Aram, takes care of the family’s goats and chickens every day and doesn’t want to imagine the day she has to leave Masafer Yatta.
“Last year, my husband built two graves side by side near our home – even if we died, we wouldn’t leave our land,” she said.
“I have lived in a cave here for many years, and I want to return to this land when I die.”