The Israeli High Court has approved the expulsion of between 1,200 and 1,800 Palestinians from eight villages in the Masafer Yatta region of the South Hebron Hills in the occupied West Bank. Should the expulsions go ahead, it will be the one of the largest incidents of ethnic cleansing in the area since 1967.
The ruling contends that Palestinians living in eight of the twelve townships in the Masafer Yatta region had not been permanent residents in the 1980s when Israel established a military zone in the area. Instead, the Israeli state claimed that Palestinian residents of Masafer Yatta—nomadic farmers who lived for generations in the area before the establishment of Israel in 1948—were “squatting”.
The Zionist state has long used the tactic of declaring a Palestinian area to be a “closed military zone”, under various “defence” and “emergency” regulations, to justify the seizure of Palestinian land.
This has been proven to be the case in Masafer Yatta. According to the minutes of a 1981 Israeli government ministerial meeting presented by the residents’ legal counsel to the court, but ignored by the justices, the Zionist state declared Masafer Yatta to be a military zone in 1981 for the sole purpose of removing the Palestinian population. The ministerial minutes document the recommendation of Israeli former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, at the time minister for agriculture and the chairman of Israel’s settlement committee, that the military expand the Masafer Yatta firing zone to prevent “the spread of the rural Arabs of the mountain down the side of the mountain facing the desert ... and to keep these areas in our hands”.
In statement issued on 5 May in response to the court ruling, Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem declared the High Court to be “the Supreme Court of the Occupation”, pointing out that the purpose of the court ruling was to provide legal justification for Israel’s destruction and ethnic cleansing of the Masafer Yatta communities. The B’Tselem statement went on to note that the ruling “proved once again that the occupied cannot expect justice from the occupier’s court”.
Veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass, writing for the Tel Aviv-based Haaretz newspaper, on 6 May noted that the Israeli military had previously carried out a “mass eviction” in the Masafer Yatta villages in 1999. According to Hass, the High Court’s ruling has simply confirmed once again the “colonial-settler” character of the Israeli state.
Hass is correct. The High Court ruling is just the latest salvo in an ongoing campaign by the Israeli settler-state to enact an apartheid regime to facilitate the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the lands they have lived on for centuries.
Since its establishment in 1948—when Zionist militias ethnically cleansed more than 500 Palestinian villages and forced more than 750,000 Palestinians into exile—a primary goal of the Zionist state has been territorial expansion. In 1967, Israel further extended its territorial control and regime of oppression when it illegally seized control of and occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.
In recent months, Israel has stepped up its campaign to seize more Palestinian land not only in the occupied West Bank but also in occupied East Jerusalem. Since March, Israel has conducted repeated raids in East Jerusalem to facilitate access for illegal Israeli settlers to Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), where the Al-Aqsa compound is located.
The most recent attack was on 5 May, when the Israeli military stormed Haram al-Sharif along with 600 illegal settlers. During the incursion, the military attacked Palestinian Muslim worshippers inside Al-Aqsa with rubber-coated bullets, tear gas and stun grenades.
While the number of incursions and raids by the military and settlers on Al-Aqsa have steadily increased since the Bennet-Lapid government came to power in mid-2021, they are not new. They are part of a decades-old joint strategy by right-wing Israeli settler groups and the Zionist state to change the demographic make-up of East Jerusalem and entrench Zionist control of the city in violation of international law.
The importance of establishing such “facts on the ground” was explained by Teddy Kollek, the former director-general of David Ben-Gurion’s prime ministerial office, after Israel seized East Jerusalem in 1967. Kollek, who later served as the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem for 28 years, said in 1968: “The object is to ensure that all of Jerusalem remains forever a part of Israel. If this city is to be our capital, then we have to make it an integral part of our country, and we need Jewish inhabitants to do that”.
Israel tried to formalise its seizure of East Jerusalem in 1980 by passing the Jerusalem Law, claiming, in contravention to international law, that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel”.
In entrenching Israeli control over the Palestinian territories that it illegally occupies, Israel has enacted an apartheid regime in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as inside the Zionist state itself.
Since 1967, Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza have been subjected to thousands of military regulations that affect every aspect of Palestinian daily life, including in relation to legal identity, education, employment, healthcare, housing, freedom of movement and political activity.
These military regulations are not enforced against the Israeli settlers living on Palestinian land in the occupied territories. Moreover, Palestinians do not have any legal recourse to challenge the regulations.
In addition, Palestinians are subject to arbitrary punishment and restrictions at the hands of the Israeli military occupation, including destruction of homes and agricultural crops, and the prevention of using roads or entering areas reserved only for Jewish colonial-settlers. Under this apartheid regime, Palestinians’ water resources and land are regularly confiscated and redirected for Jewish-only use in Israeli colonies.
Inside the Zionist state, more than 65 laws have been enacted to discriminate against Palestinians. According to Israeli human rights organisation Adalah—the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel—these discriminatory laws cover areas such as marriage and family matters, employment, education, land, property and political activity.
In July 2018, the Knesset voted for the Jewish Nation State Bill, enshrining its decades of apartheid policy. At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gloated that it was “a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the annals of the state of Israel”.
The bill stated that Israel is the “national home of the Jewish people” and that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people”, thus denying Palestinians and other non-Jews the same right. According to Adalah, the bill entrenches “the privileges enjoyed by Jewish citizens, while simultaneously anchoring discrimination against Palestinian citizens and legitimising exclusion, racism, and systemic inequality”.
The purpose of the bill was made clear by one of its sponsors, Avi Dichter—an anti-Arab racist, who is also a former head of Israel’s secret police—who explained that it was designed to “prevent even the slightest thought, let alone attempt, to transform Israel to a country of all its citizen[s]”.
Despite Israel’s ongoing repression, Palestinians inside the Zionist state and in the occupied Palestinian territories have continued to resist Zionist settler-colonialism, occupation and oppression. In the wake of the Israeli High Court decision, Nidal Abu Younis, the mayor of Masafer Yatta, denounced the court as being “part of the occupation” and made it clear, in an interview with Reuters, that they will continue to fight to stay on their land.
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