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Masafer Yatta, where Palestinians struggle to exist

Photo: Maya Alleruzzo Associated Press Located south of Hebron, Masafer Yatta is a group of 19 Palestinian hamlets. Residents of the region are threatened with expulsion by the Israeli authorities and subjected to violence by radical settlers. In this photo dating from September 4, 2023, before the war, five-year-old Ali could move around with his donkey. But since then, a new wave of demolitions has hit villages in the region.

Since October 7, Israeli army restrictions and settler violence have increased south of Hebron in the Masafer Yatta area of ​​the West Bank. Palestinians are fighting to preserve their right to stay on their land.

“There is no longer any road to enter the village. » Nasser Nawajaa drives over rugged hills, where his car crashes into rock and swings in all directions. “On October 20, two weeks after the start of the war, the Israeli army closed access to my village, Susya, with huge blocks of stone. Now we have to drive on the shoulder to get in. It has become inaccessible for those who have a small car. »

Nasser stops at the entrance to his prefab. In Susya, a village in the Masafer Yatta region, 300 Palestinians live in makeshift facilities: “A living room with kitchen, a bedroom, and a bathroom. It’s precarious, we can’t build real houses, they would be immediately destroyed by the Israeli army. »

Threats of expulsion

Although the Palestinian presence in Susya has been established since the beginning of the 19th century, the town is not recognized by the State of Israel. “Since the 1980s, our village has been destroyed seven times,” laments the 50-year-old man. The last demolition dates from 2014. Three houses were razed. Each time, the residents rebuild, we don't want to leave. These are our lands. »

In 2012, the village first applied to enter the Israeli-administered master plan, which allows West Bank localities to be recognized for avoiding demolition and being connected to water and electricity networks. . After two refusals, Susya launched a third request.

On the roofs of the houses, the residents installed tarpaulins. “It’s to hide us from Israeli drones,” explains Nasser Nawajaa. As Susya is not recognized by Israel, we do not have the right to build new facilities. But the years go by, families grow and we need to build. If the Israelis find out, the entire village will be destroyed. »

Every day, young settlers arrive with their sheep to settle on Palestinian land. The animals devour the plants, they destroy the Palestinian fields, then they leave.

—Jacob

Since the Oslo Accords, the West Bank has been divided into three zones: zone A, theoretically under total control of the Palestinian Authority, zone B, under Palestinian administrative and Israeli security control, and zone C, totally controlled by the Israeli authorities, which corresponds to 60% of the occupied territory and where the illegal settlements under international law are located. The village of Susya is in zone C, very affected by occupation and colonization. Not far from the town, the Israeli army seized 3,000 hectares of land to make it a “restricted military zone”, called “918 firing zone”, where the movement of Palestinians is limited. And above all, the village adjoins a colony, also called Susya, established since 1983 by settlers with radical ideology.

“The settlers are coming! » Three American activists who came to the West Bank with the organization Jewish Voice for Peace are stationed on Nasser Nawajaa's land, cameras in hand, to document the comings and goings of the settlers. “Every day, young settlers arrive with their sheep to settle on Palestinian land,” says Jacob, a pro-Palestinian activist from the United States who prefers that his last name not be used. The animals devour the plants, they destroy the Palestinian fields, then they leave. »

Settler violence

Located south of Hebron, Masafer Yatta is a group of 19 Palestinian hamlets, of which Susya is a part. Residents of the region are threatened with expulsion by the Israeli authorities and subjected to violence by radical settlers. In this territory, Israeli policy “threatens the existence” of Palestinian villages which “are home to some 4,000 inhabitants,” according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. “This policy results in an almost total ban on building, repeated demolitions of houses, roads and water tanks, violence by security forces and lack of repression of settler violence. »

A few kilometers from Susya, the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani may well be recognized by the State of Israel, but the inhabitants also suffer from occupation and colonial violence. The town is adjacent to the Ma'on settlement, founded in 1986 by the Israeli paramilitary group Nahal, whose occupants are known for their brutality towards Palestinians.

Daily provocations. This is what the Raba’i family, who lives in the last house in the village before the colony, is experiencing. A cowboy-looking resident of Ma’on arrives, automatic weapon in hand, shooting threatening glances at the family. “It’s been like this almost every day since October 7,” laments Wissam Raba’i, 20 years old.

“Since the war began, the settlers have attacked us about twenty times. They come armed and insult us. They are supported by the Israeli army, which has extended the lands forbidden to Palestinians behind our house. We cannot move more than a few dozen meters, otherwise they shoot at us,” says the young Palestinian. “Everyone is afraid of the settlers, but also of the army that protects them, especially since the attack on Zakaria.”

The pace of attacks is relentless. Some families have left the village under pressure. We had never seen this, even during the second intifada [2000-2005].

— Salim

Zakaria Adra is a well-known resident of At-Tuwani. At the start of the war, on October 13, a settler entered a Palestinian house in the village, gun in hand. Zakaria asks him to leave. The armed settler hits him then shoots him in the stomach, under the eyes of an Israeli soldier who does not react. A video of the scene was published on the B’Tselem website. “This is the first time that a settler fired live ammunition at a resident of At-Tuwani,” says Mahmoud, Zakaria’s brother-in-law. We wanted to take him to the hospital in Hebron, he was bleeding. But on the road, soldiers told us to turn around. We lost a lot of time. Eventually he was treated at Yatta. He was lucky, he could have died. » The alleged culprit, who fled, was never worried by the Israeli authorities. “Impunity reigns supreme for settlers. That’s everyday life at Masafer Yatta. »

In the West Bank, settler violence and settlement-related violations have reached shocking levels and may amount to a “war crime,” according to a United Nations report released in early March. “The continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements is accompanied by the displacement of Palestinians due to Israeli settler and state violence,” says the report, which points to the risk of “eliminating any practical possibility of establishing a Viable Palestinian state.”

“I have to replant everything”

In At-Tuwani, where a majority of residents make a living from agriculture, colonization also affects the local economy. Hafez Huraini paid the price. On Monday, the farmer discovered all of his grape plantations uprooted by settlers from Ma'on. “They cut down 47 trees,” laments the 67-year-old man, his voice trembling, pickaxe in hand to dig the earth. “I have to replant everything. It costs a lot, 45 to 60 shekels [or $16 to $22] per tree to get them big enough to bear fruit this fall, he says, pushing a vine into the ground. The worst part is that I don't know if they won't come back and cut them again. » Hafez filed a complaint with the Israeli police, who administer Area C of the Palestinian territory, “but I have little hope. We never see an investigation succeed when the Palestinians are the victims.”

Dusk falls on At-Tuwani. Salim Adra settles on a hill overlooking the village. From these heights, he can scan the surroundings. “I observe the movements coming from Ma’on. With the settler attacks intensifying, there is someone here every evening, we do shifts. If a person with bad intentions enters the village, we can tell right away.”

Salim Adra feels “isolated.” At the beginning of the war, the road from At-Tuwani that led to the town of Yatta, the main town in the region, was closed by settlers and the army with blocks of stones. “The residents have to make significant and dangerous detours, on roads used by Israeli settlers who attack our cars,” he says. “The village lives in fear.” »

Tea in hand, Salim observes the surroundings for two hours. Faced with the recurrence of Israeli violence, the population helps each other. Attacks by the army or settlers are documented and sent to human rights associations, such as B’Tselem. “The pace of attacks is relentless. Some families left the village under pressure. We had never seen this, even during the second intifada [2000-2005],” Salim laments, letting out a tired sigh. “The settlers and the army want us to leave, but I will never leave these lands. »

This report was financed with the support of the Transat-Le Devoir International Journalism Fund.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116