Israeli soldiers observe the demolition of Palestinian homes. (Photo: Twitter @basel_adra)
A twenty year battle in Israeli courts ended with a decision to evict more than 1,000 Palestinians from Masafer Yatta. Settler attacks on Palestinians escalated even before the ruling, which allows a firing range to be built where ancient villages now stand.
The Israeli government wants to build a “firing zone” to conduct war games on top of the ancient villages of Masafer Yatta. Instead of shepherds and self-sufficient Indigenous Palestinian communities, the Israeli military wants to train for war, drive tanks, and shoot countless times into the earth. Instead of olive trees, wheat fields, sheep, traditional cheese-making, bread ovens, schools, gazelles, wildlife, and rooted communities, the Israeli army wants war, war, more and more space to play games of war.
Who thinks this is a good idea? The Israeli Supreme Court recently thought it was, deciding the area should be depopulated to become a war training zone after a 22 year legal battle with the traditional Palestinian communities. One of the judges, David Mintz, is himself a settler living in the settlement of Dolev, which is illegal under international law, but obviously international law was not on these judges mind when they made their ruling.
The Israeli judges’ decision constitutes a war crime. Regardless of the authority the three judges may think they have under Israeli law, making a decision to commit genocide against the people of Masafer Yatta leaves them vulnerable to personally being considered war criminals at the ICC. It is no small matter to attempt to destroy a culture and a people. It is not an insignificant thing to attempt to commit genocide against peaceful shepherds, against self-sufficient Indigenous deeply-rooted traditional communities.
The ICC website states the Rome Statute grants the ICC jurisdiction over four main crimes. Three of those four crimes are very evident in this case: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
Many have spoken out against this obviously ignorant greed-and-racism-filled illegal ruling to depopulate these traditional villages, including countless Palestinians, the United Nations, EU, dozens of U.S. Senators, and many Israeli organizations, journalists, and lawyers.
I spent time in Masafer Yatta in 2005, and spent many days in the rolling ancient fields with the shepherds, drinking coffee, laughing, learning Arabic, and scanning distant hills in case settlers from Australia, the United States, or Europe decided to come that day to try to beat someone or attack the sheep.
While I was there, the settlers poisoned the fields with rat poison, resulting in the deaths of several sheep. I saw many attacks, including one where Israeli settlers broke the jaw of an Italian human rights activist I worked with.
But things have gotten much worse in Masafer Yatta since then, and the attacks have been more frequent and violent.
The question remains: do we want peace or war? Do we want human rights or war crimes? Do we want dignity or debasement? Safety or terror? Joy or endless suffering? Growth or the same old hell? Do we want love or hate? Community or division upon division? Do we want ancient Indigenous communities to thrive in their own land, or military tanks playing at endless war in increasingly polluted fields?
Yes, governments play games of power and war, and it may seems their endless schemes of war are inevitable, but some things cannot be replaced. Traditional Indigenous cultures are vital parts of this earth, and they cannot be replaced. They have the right to exist, regardless of modern arrogance which refuses to view them in all their irreplaceable strength, intelligence, beauty, and dignity.
Masafer Yatta IS its people living together with the land. The fact that the Israeli Supreme Court and military cannot recognize what is right in front of its face, and is frankly cursed into playing out war and brutality day after day, does not hold more weight than beautiful mornings on the winter-rain-fed green rolling hills, shepherds who befriend young people from throughout the world, laughing days spent playing ancient games drinking coffee, watching the sheep. Lunches of local cucumber, tomatoes, fresh eggs and olive oil, warm bread, hummus. Coffee. Laughter. Warm eyes, ancient communities, people who just want to live in peace.
One morning I will always remember I woke up in a cave in Jinba, a village whose buildings – homes, school and stores - had all been demolished, forcing families to move into ancient caves. I woke up to the sound of a cheerful man saying “Fih harakay barakay!” “In movement there is blessing!” Nearby the wonderful Art Gish woke up chuckling. It was certainly the best morning wake up I’ve ever had. We witnessed Israeli tanks driving through Jinba’s wheat fields on that same trip. But there the question still stands, blatantly – peace or war? That is always the question we must decide. And no government can ultimately decide it for us.
Following is documentation of 6 months of recent attacks against the communities of Masafer Yatta, collected by people from these communities, who have been diligently documenting the attacks for years. The sheer amount and scope of the attacks are staggering. However, these communities have withstood all these many attacks because of their love for the land, their communities and homes, and their traditional way of life.
For 18 years. schoolchildren in Tuba have needed a daily Israeli army escort to walk them past Havot Maon settlement on their way to school to protect them from violent attacks by the settlers. Other human rights defenders often walk with the children as well. Even when the soldiers are there, settler still sometimes attack the children.
April 13, 2022, soldiers and settlers forcibly removed shepherds from two areas as they were grazing their sheep.
April 13, 2022, soldiers raided At-Tuwani village in the early morning hours, searched homes, and tried to prevent people from filming.
April 5, 2022, soldier arrest Hussein Hureini, as he is accompanying shepherds who were attacked on the previous day.
April 4, 2022, settlers attacked shepherds as they walked with their sheep, cursing them, threatening to slaughter them, and then physically attacking Israeli nonviolent activists who were with them. They then threw rocks at the shepherds.
March 31, 2022, soldiers stole a tractor from At-Tuwani village and brutally beat the elderly farmer, Mufaddi Raba’i, who was hospitalized.
March 30, 2022, settler attack on the village of Tuba, car windows smashed, soldiers falsely arrest villager, Riad Awad. Ali Awad writes “We are living in a constant state of terror, and suffer the violence of that terror every day.”
March 27, 2022, soldiers and settlers harass shepherds grazing their sheep.
March 21, 2022, soldiers raided At-Tuwani at night, detained people, threw stun grenades, entered homes and threw belongings around, and blocked the roads.
March 16, 2022, Israeli soldiers stopped small Palestinian children walking home from school, forcing them to kneel in the rain for more than an hour in cold weather.
March 10, 2022, soldiers raid At-Tuwani village at night, detained people and threw stun grenades.
March 9, 2022, soldiers harass volunteers waiting with the children from Tuba who are trying to go home from school.
February 23, 2022, soldiers demolished a family’s home in She’b al-Batum, displacing 23 people.
February 17, 2022, settlers set a fire in Susiya village and throw rocks at the residents.
February 15, 2022, soldiers demolished a family’s home and violently arrested the homeowner.
February 15, 2022, soldiers raided At-Tuwani village at 1:30am, and arrested two people.
February 2, 2022, soldiers demolished 4 wells in Khalit Al Dabia village.
February 1, 2022, soldiers demolished 3 homes and destroyed an electricity network.
January 31, 2022, soldiers give a stop work order to a community center in At-Tuwani, and a demolition order to a community center in Sarura.
January 12, 2022, soldiers demolished a family’s home, leaving 18 people homeless, including 11 children. They also demolished two sheep pens and a water well.
January 8, 2022, 18-year-old Mohammad Makhamra from al-Mirkiz was running to follow his flock of sheep just one hundred meters from his home, when he stepped on an unexploded bomb left by the Israeli army. The explosion fractured his right leg, sent shrapnel throughout his body, and caused him to lose one of his hands.
January 5, 2022, an Israeli military tow truck purposefully ran over 75-year-old Haj Suleiman al-Hathalin of Um al-Khair village, and he died from the injuries. The Israeli army was in the area seizing privately-owned Palestinian vehicles with the tow truck. Haj Suleiman was a well-known peaceful community leader who was deeply-loved by the community.
December 28, 2021, soldiers violently assault family while demolishing their home in Jabal Sondas.
December 24, 2021, Armed Israeli settlers with dogs, escorted by soldiers, raided homes.
December 23, 2021, Israeli settlers cut and killed many farmers’ olive trees.
December 22, 2021, Israeli soldiers destroyed a farmers market and steal the farmers’ vegetables.
December 20, 2021, settlers blocked the road to at-Tuwani village with large rocks, and write ‘Death to the Arabs’ on the rocks.
December 17, 2021, Israeli soldiers stopped Palestinian farmers from plowing their land in Kharrouba Valley and threatened to confiscate the tractor if the farmers did not leave.
December 8, 2021, Israeli settlers violently attacked school children and soldiers arrested Hamoudi Huraini, who is was accompanying the children.
December 7, 2021, soldiers raided Tuba village at night and arrested 3 people.
December 2, 2021, settlers attacked Hamoudi Huraini from At-Tuwani while he was outside near a garden and then soldiers arrested him.
December 2, 2021, soldiers demolished houses and sheep’s shelters in Al Merkiz village.
December 1, 2021, soldiers invade the home of journalist Basil Adraa, and take 4 video cameras, a laptop and memory cards.
November 23, 2021, soldiers demolish a home and seven graves.
November 18, 2021, soldiers blockade a road to Sheab Al Botom village.
November 15, 2021, soldiers demolish sheep shelters and homes throughout Masafer Yatta.
November 13, 2021, soldiers blocked roads to the village of Susiya and the entrance to the village with several military orders in order to prevent the arrival of volunteers to spend time with the children on a playground.
November 12, 2021, soldiers entered At-Tuwani village, closed all the entrances, entered homes, damaged property, and stopped community journalists from filming.
November 10, 2021, settlers opened fire on Palestinians near Khallet a-Daba’ and threw rocks at them. 7 Palestinians were injured, cars were damaged, and settlers set fire to a home. The Israeli soldiers left the scene during a violent settler attack, allowing the attack to escalate into open violence.
November 9, 2021, an Israeli police office returns a weapon to a settler that was used in the previous day’s attack where masked Israeli, accompanied by soldiers, attacked the village of Sadat Al-Tha’lah, attacked the shepherds and injured two women and a man.
November 7. 2021, settlers from Havat Maon attack a Palestinian shepherd and two women from the village of Al-Tha'ala who were injured and needed an ambulance.
November 6, 2021, 150 Israeli settlers, accompanied by dozens of Israeli soldiers, entered the village of Susiya, and took over a children’s playground.
November 3, 2021, soldiers demolish a home in Jawaya village.
November 1, 2021, Israeli settlers raided a community center in Sarura, broke the iron door of the cave, entered, and stole a generator, work tools, mattresses and blankets.
Additional recent attacks which add more context
September 29, 2021, settler attack on the village of Mufaqara where a 4 year old child got a fractured skull and internal bleeding of the brain when 60 armed settlers attacked the village, slit the throats of sheep, stoned homes, destroyed cars, and cut water pipes.
May 2021, Settlers tried to block At-Tuwani’s entrance, and then Fadel Raba’i and his sons are physically attacked by settlers, threatened with guns, and then arrested by Israeli soldiers. The settlers also tried to stop the farmers from working on their land, and another villager, Ribhi Raba’i, was shot in the leg with live ammunition and beaten on the head.
August 11, 2021, Israeli border police demolish a home in Khalet al-Daba and severely beat Amer al-Dababseh, leaving him with a disability. They also demolish a water cistern.
January 1, 2021, Israeli soldiers shot Harun Abu Aram at point-blank range in the neck on his birthday, permanently paralyzing him, after they arrived in his village of al-Rakiz and tried to take a generator. When a neighbor attempted to transport Abu Aram to a medical clinic, soldiers fired at the vehicle, disabling it. Abu-Aram’s home had been demolished a month before, forcing his mother and sister to sleep outside.
August 30, 2020, Israeli settlers purposefully drove into a herd of sheep owned by Ayed al-Shawaheen, killing several sheep, and causing him thousands of dollars of losses.
2018, Farmer Juma’a Raba’i from at-Tuwani was beaten by settlers as he tried to reach his farmland. He is no longer able to farm or walk without the aid of a walking stick. His mother Fatma, 73, was also beaten by settlers as she sat under an olive tree. A settler held a gun to Juma’a’s head during the attack on his mother. Fatma is no longer able to walk and is confined to a wheelchair.
2011, Mahmoud Awad of Tuba village, was on his way to a medical appointment when a settler from a nearby outpost stabbed him in the shoulder near his lung.
Chelli Stanley is an independent journalist, environmentalist, Buddhist, common person, of African, Japanese, and European descent born in Mexico. Has traveled widely, doesn't watch tv, wants freedom. Can be contacted at [email protected].