Since early July 2023, thirteen Palestinian families comprising 84 people (44 children and 40 adults) have been displaced from Masafer Yatta, citing increased movement restrictions imposed by Israeli forces as the primary reason, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Located in the southern West Bank, Masafer Yatta’s 13 communities were, until recently, home to 215 Palestinian households, comprising about 1,150 people. The area is within 18 percent of the West Bank declared by the Israeli authorities as “firing zones” and allocated for military training. The people displaced in the past three months represent about 7 percent of the population.
Over the years, and increasingly since May 2022, the Israeli authorities have imposed movement restrictions, confiscated property, demolished homes, and carried out military training in Masafer Yatta. Jointly, these practices have generated a coercive environment that has pressured residents to move out, said OCHA.
In the past three months, movement restrictions have further intensified. Operating from a newly established military base, Israeli forces now patrol the area more frequently, further restricting people’s movement and access to markets and basic services, as well as the shipment of fodder and other inputs for livestock, on which most families rely. They have additionally confiscated vehicles used by residents.
Two schools in the area report that 24 students have dropped out this year, including pupils whose families have left amid this coercive environment, and others who fear the unsafe journey to school. In one incident, in September, Israeli forces stopped teachers who were traveling to work and threatened to seize their vehicle if they used it again.
Since March 2023, one of Masafer Yatta’s communities, Khirbet Bir Al ‘Idd, has stood empty, following the displacement of the last two families. In that case, family members cited rising settler violence as the main reason for leaving. It is now one of the four Palestinian communities that have been completely emptied across the West Bank since 2022.
Humanitarian organizations and donors have been providing assistance to the communities in Masafer Yatta to meet their basic needs. However, over the years, the Israeli authorities have impeded such efforts by issuing demolition or ‘stop work’ orders, by confiscating vehicles and equipment, and by restricting physical access to land and the entry of humanitarian workers. An emergency shelter project initiated in May 2023 has had to stop following the confiscation of rehabilitation materials by the Israeli authorities.
The forcible transfer of civilians from, or within, the occupied Palestinian territory is prohibited under international humanitarian law, said OCHA, adding that the United Nations has called upon the Israeli authorities to halt all coercive measures including movement restrictions, planned evictions, demolitions, and military training in residential areas.