Largest Palestinian displacement in decades looms after Israeli court ruling

Israeli security forces surround demonstrators raising Palestinian flags, as Palestinian, left-wing, Israeli and foreign activists gather to protest against a High Court decision to evict Palestinian communities from Fire Zone 918, on June 10, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 12 June 2022

Largest Palestinian displacement in decades looms after Israeli court ruling

  • Israel says West Bank area not permanently inhabited
  • Palestinian farmers, shepherds claim historic ties to land

MASAFER YATTA, West Bank: Some 1,200 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank region of Masafer Yatta face the risk of forced removal to make way for an army firing zone after a decades-long legal battle that ended last month in Israel’s highest court.
The ruling opened the way for one of the largest displacements since Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Middle East war. But residents are refusing to leave, hoping their resilience and international pressure will keep Israel from carrying out the evictions.
“They want to take this land from us to build settlements,” said Wadha Ayoub Abu Sabha, a resident of Al-Fakheit, one of a group of hamlets where Palestinian shepherds and farmers claim a historic connection to the land.
“We’re not leaving,” she said.
In the 1980s, Israel declared the area a closed military zone known as “Firing Zone 918.” It argued in court that these 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) along the Israel-West Bank boundary were “highly crucial” for training purposes and that the Palestinians living there were only seasonal dwellers.
“It has been a year of immense grief,” said Abu Sabha, her voice breaking as she sat in one of the few tents left standing, lit by a single light bulb.
The communities in this part of the South Hebron Hills traditionally lived in underground caves. Over the past two decades, they have also started building tin shacks and small rooms above ground.
Israeli forces have been demolishing these new constructions for years, Abu Sabha said, but now that they have the court’s backing, the evictions are likely to pick up.
Steps away, her family’s belongings were reduced to a pile of rubble after soldiers arrived with bulldozers to raze some of the structures. She lamented the significant losses — the dwindling livestock even more than the destroyed furniture.
Much of the argument during the protracted case centered on whether the Palestinians who live across the area are permanent residents or seasonal occupants.
The Supreme Court concluded that the residents “failed to prove their claim of permanent habitation” before the area was declared a firing zone. It relied on aerial photos and excerpts from a 1985 book that both sides cited as evidence.
The book, titled “Life in the Caves of Mount Hebron,” was authored by Israeli anthropologist Yaacov Havakook, who spent three years studying the lives of Palestinian farmers and shepherds in Masafer Yatta.
Havakook declined to comment and instead referred Reuters to his book. But he said he had tried to submit an expert opinion on behalf of the residents following a request from one of their lawyers, and was prevented from doing so by the Israeli defense ministry, where he was employed at the time.

INTERNATIONAL CRITICISM
The United Nations and European Union condemned the court ruling and urged Israel to stop the demolitions and evictions.
“The establishment of a firing zone cannot be considered an ‘imperative military reason’ to transfer the population under occupation,” the EU spokesperson said in a statement.
In a transcript of a 1981 ministerial meeting on settlements uncovered by Israeli researchers, then-Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, who later became prime minister, suggested the Israeli military expand training zones in the South Hebron Hills to dispossess the Palestinian residents of their land.
“We want to offer you more training zones,” Sharon said, given “the spread of Arab villagers from the hills toward the desert.”
The Israeli military told Reuters the area was declared a firing zone for “a variety of relevant operational considerations” and that Palestinians violated the closure order by building without permits over the years.
According to the United Nations, the Israeli authorities reject most Palestinian applications for building permits in “Area C,” a swathe of land making up two-thirds of the West Bank where Israel has full control and where most Jewish settlements are located. In other areas of the West Bank, Palestinians exercise limited self-rule.
UN data also showed that Israel has marked nearly 30 percent of Area C as military firing zones. The designations have put 38 of the most vulnerable Palestinian communities at increased risk of forced displacement.
Meanwhile, settlements in the area have continued to expand, further restricting Palestinian movement and the space available for residents to farm and graze their sheep and goats.
“All of these olives are mine,” said Mahmoud Ali Najajreh of Al-Markez, another hamlet at risk, pointing to a grove in the near distance. “How can we leave?“
The 3,500 olive trees he planted two years ago — he counted each one — were beginning to bud.
“We will wait for the dust to settle, then build again,” Najajreh told Reuters. “We would rather die than leave here.”

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Lebanon to send remarks on US draft on maritime border with Israel

Updated 56 min 27 sec ago

Lebanon to send remarks on US draft on maritime border with Israel

  • Draft appears to float an arrangement whereby gas would be produced by a company under a Lebanese license in the disputed Qana prospect
  • Israel would receive a share of revenues

BEIRUT: Lebanon will send its comments on a US proposal to delineate its maritime border with longtime foe Israel to the American official mediating talks by Tuesday, a top Lebanese official said on Monday.
US envoy Amos Hochstein has shuttled between Lebanon and Israel since 2020 to seal a deal that would pave the way for offshore energy exploration and defuse a potential source of conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Hochstein sent a written draft proposal to Beirut last week. It was discussed on Monday by President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
The three would pull together their concerns on the draft to send to Hochstein within 24 hours and would not respond officially to the proposals until their queries were addressed, said Elias Bou Saab, Berri’s deputy and the main pointperson for the file in Lebanon.
“The devils are in the details, but the devils are now small,” said Bou Saab, speaking to journalists after the top officials met.
The 10-page draft appears to float an arrangement whereby gas would be produced by a company under a Lebanese license in the disputed Qana prospect, with Israel receiving a share of revenues.
Few other details have been made public, but Bou Saab said on Monday that the arrangement secures all of Lebanon’s rights in relation to Qana and Mikati said that the draft included “all essential matters.”
Bou Saab said he expected a response by Hochstein by the end of the week, and said only then could Lebanon prepare an official response.
Israel has said its own legal experts are also reviewing the draft before it can be approved.
Israeli media reported that the cabinet will meet on Thursday to approve the deal, but no session is formally scheduled.
A senior Israeli official told Reuters that it was not yet clear when the government would take that step, as it awaited word of Lebanon’s response.
“If they come back with changes — other than small, technical things — it may not be done by Thursday,” the official said.
A top Lebanese source briefed on the negotiations said that if an agreement is reached, it would come into force via a ceremony in the southern Lebanese border town of Naqoura.
The mechanisms are not clear, but Aoun said there would be “no partnership” with the Israeli said.
While the company carrying out the exploration in Qana has been officially named, Lebanese officials have publicly suggested a role for TotalEnergies SE and a top Israeli official was meeting company representatives in Paris on Monday, according to a source briefed on the matter.
Israel’s energy ministry confirmed that its director-general Lior Schillat, who also heads Israel’s negotiating team, was in Paris for discussions on Monday.
TotalEnergies declined to comment. 


Rights group: Israel holding 800 Palestinians without trial

Updated 03 October 2022

Rights group: Israel holding 800 Palestinians without trial

  • The number of those held in administrative detention has risen steadily this year
  • Israel says it uses administrative detention to impede attacks and restrain dangerous militants

JERUSALEM: Israel is holding nearly 800 Palestinians without trial or charge, the highest number since 2008, an Israeli rights group said Sunday.
The group, HaMoked, which regularly gathers figures from Israeli prison authorities, said that 798 Palestinians are currently being held in so-called administrative detention, a practice where the prisoners can be held for months, do not know the charges against them and are not granted access to the evidence against them.
The group said the number of those held in administrative detention has risen steadily this year, as Israel conducts nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank in response to a spate of attacks against Israelis earlier this year.
Israel says it uses administrative detention to impede attacks and restrain dangerous militants without revealing sensitive intelligence. Rights groups and Palestinians say it is an abusive system that denies freedom without due process, leaving some Palestinians for months or even years behind bars with no evidence against them made accessible. Some resort to life-threatening hunger strikes to draw attention to their detention, which often drives up tensions between Israel and Palestinians.
“Administrative detention should be an exceptional measure but Israel makes wholesale use of this detention without trial,” said Jessica Montell, HaMoked’s executive director. “This has to stop. If Israel cannot bring them to trial, it must release all administrative detainees.”
HaMoked said the figure was a new peak in a growing wave of administrative detentions which began last spring following a series of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis that killed 19 people. Those attacks sparked the Israeli raids that have killed some 100 Palestinians, many of them said to be militants or local youths out to protest the incursion into their cities or towns, but civilians have also died in the violence.
The Israeli military says some 1,500 Palestinians have been arrested during that time including those held in administrative detention. It says the raids are necessary to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks against Israelis. Palestinians say the raids are aimed at maintaining Israel’s 55-year military rule over territories they want for a future state.
The raids have been met by an uptick in shooting attacks in the West Bank. On Sunday, the military said an Israeli soldier and a motorist were lightly wounded in two separate incidents.
The last time Israel held as many administrative detainees, in May 2008, also coincided with an increase in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security service did not respond to a request for comment.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has since established some 130 settlements there, home to 500,000 settlers. The Palestinians want the territory, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for their hoped-for independent state.


Iran’s Khamenei says protests were ‘planned’, blames US

Updated 03 October 2022

Iran’s Khamenei says protests were ‘planned’, blames US

  • Concern grew over violence at Sharif University of Technology, where riot police confronted students
  • Footage shows shooting and screaming being heard as large numbers of people run down a street at night

DUBAI/PARIS: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday protests over the death of a woman in police custody were planned and not staged by “ordinary Iranians,” in his first comments on unrest that has swept the country since Sept. 17.
In comments reported by state media, Khamenei said the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini “deeply broke my heart,” calling it a “bitter incident.”
But he said “some people had caused insecurity in the streets,” saying there had been planned “riots.” 

“This rioting was planned,” he told a cadre of police students in Tehran. “I say clearly that these riots and insecurities were designed by America and the Zionist regime, and their employees.”
He added of the protests: “Such actions are not normal, are unnatural.” 
He expressed strong backing for the security forces, saying they had faced injustice during the protests. 

Earlier, Iranian students have clashed with security forces at a top Tehran university amid the wave of unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, state media and rights groups said Monday.
Kurdish Iranian Amini, 22, was pronounced dead on Sept. 16, days after she was detained for allegedly breaching rules forcing women to wear hijab headscarves and modest clothes, sparking Iran’s biggest wave of protests in almost three years.
Concern grew over violence at Sharif University of Technology overnight where, local media reported, riot police confronted hundreds of students, using tear gas and paintball and carrying weapons that shoot non-lethal steel pellets.
“Woman, life, liberty,” students shouted, as well as “students prefer death to humiliation,” the Iranian Mehr news agency reported, adding that the country’s science minister later came to speak to the students in an effort to calm the situation.
The Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights posted video apparently showing Iranian police on motorcycles pursuing running students in an underground car park and, in a separate clip, taking away detainees whose heads were covered in black cloth bags.
In other footage, shooting and screaming can be heard as large numbers of people run down a street at night, in footage AFP has not independently verified.
“Security forces have attacked Sharif University in Tehran tonight. Shooting can be heard,” IHR said in a Twitter message Sunday.
In another video clip, a crowd of people can be heard chanting: “Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid! We are all together!” IHR said the footage was taken at Shariati metro station in the capital Tehran on Sunday.
The New York-based group Center for Human Rights in Iran said it was “extremely concerned by videos coming out of Sharif University and Tehran today showing violent repression of protests + detainees being hauled away with their heads completely covered in fabric.”
Mehr news agency said that “Sharif University of Technology announced that due to recent events and the need to protect students ... all classes will be held virtually from Monday.”
Since the unrest started on September 16, dozens of protesters have been killed and more than a thousand arrested. Members of the security forces have been among those killed.


Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid — ministry

Updated 03 October 2022

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid — ministry

  • Palestinians and rights group often accuse Israeli soldiers of using excessive force against the Palestinian people
  • Palestinians see night raids as Israel’s way of deepening its occupation of lands they want for their hoped-for state

TEL AVIV: The Israeli military shot and killed two Palestinians during a raid in the occupied West Bank early Monday, Palestinian officials said.
The military alleged that the men tried to ram their car into soldiers, a claim that could not be independently verified. Palestinians and rights group often accuse Israeli troops of using excessive force against Palestinians, who live under a 55-year military occupation with no end in sight. Israel says it follows strict rules of engagement and opens fire in life-threatening situations.
The military said soldiers were attempting to arrest a suspect in the Jalazone refugee camp near the city of Ramallah when the two Palestinians allegedly attempted to run over soldiers with their car. The soldiers opened fire on the car, the military said.
The Palestinian Civil Affairs Authority, which coordinates on civilian issues with Israel, said the military shot and killed the two men. Their identities were not immediately known.
Israel has been carrying out nightly arrest raids in the West Bank since the spring, when a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis killed 19 people. Israel says its operations are aimed at dismantling militant infrastructure and preventing future attacks. The Palestinians see the nightly incursions into their cities, villages and towns as Israel’s way of deepening its occupation of lands they want for their hoped-for state.
The Israeli raids have killed some 100 Palestinians, making this year the deadliest since 2016. Israel says most of those killed have been militants but local youths protesting the incursions as well as some civilians have also been killed in the violence. Hundreds have been rounded up, with many placed in so-called administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold them without trial or charge.
The raids have driven up tensions in the West Bank, with an uptick in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israelis. They have also drawn into focus the growing disillusionment among young Palestinians over the tight security coordination between Israeli and the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority, who work together to apprehend militants.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in some 130 settlements and other outposts among nearly 3 Palestinians. The Palestinians want that territory, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for their future state.


Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry

Updated 03 October 2022

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry

  • The identities of the two men were not immediately known

TEL AVIV: The Israeli military shot and killed two Palestinians during a raid in the occupied West Bank early Monday, Palestinian officials said.
The military alleged that the men tried to ram their car into soldiers, a claim that could not be independently verified. Palestinians and rights group often accuse Israeli troops of using excessive force against Palestinians, who live under a 55-year military occupation with no end in sight. Israel says it follows strict rules of engagement and opens fire in life-threatening situations.
The military said soldiers were attempting to arrest a suspect in the Jalazone refugee camp near the city of Ramallah when the two Palestinians allegedly attempted to run over soldiers with their car. The soldiers opened fire on the car, the military said.
The Palestinian Civil Affairs Authority, which coordinates on civilian issues with Israel, said the military shot and killed the two men. Their identities were not immediately known.
Israel has been carrying out nightly arrest raids in the West Bank since the spring, when a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis killed 19 people. Israel says its operations are aimed at dismantling militant infrastructure and preventing future attacks. The Palestinians see the nightly incursions into their cities, villages and towns as Israel’s way of deepening its occupation of lands they want for their hoped-for state.
The Israeli raids have killed some 100 Palestinians, making this year the deadliest since 2016. Israel says most of those killed have been militants but local youths protesting the incursions as well as some civilians have also been killed in the violence. Hundreds have been rounded up, with many placed in so-called administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold them without trial or charge.
The raids have driven up tensions in the West Bank, with an uptick in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israelis. They have also drawn into focus the growing disillusionment among young Palestinians over the tight security coordination between Israeli and the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority, who work together to apprehend militants.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in some 130 settlements and other outposts among nearly 3 Palestinians. The Palestinians want that territory, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for their future state.

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