Posted on March 21, 2024, by & filed under News.

On behalf of ICAHD UK, I was invited to meet with Nidal Younis, Mayor of Masafer Yatta and head of the Masafer Yatta village council, and Awdah Al Hathaleen from Umm al Khair, who accompanied Nidal while they were in London during February. They were on a visit facilitated by the Balfour Project that included an extensive programme of meetings and lobbying of parliamentarians.  

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) is known to Nidal and Awdah so we needed no introduction because for years we have highlighted Israel’s attempt to displace the Palestinians from Masafer Yatta on the grounds that the land is needed for a military base. We have always believed that Israel’s true objective is to pursue its settler colonial programme, taking as much land of historic Palestine as possible and to move in more of the Jewish population even if it violates international law.

I asked Nidal if he could speak about how life in Masafer Yatta has changed since 7th October.

Nidal – Life in Masafer Yatta was really hard before October 7th. In May 2022, Israel’s supreme court ruled against our ability to remain on our land, we were told that we would face imminent displacement. Thankfully, many internationals opposed this ruling, so we were not cleared all at once. But settler attacks and demolitions started happening on an average of once a week. However, since October 7th, the attacks are now occurring two or three times per week. Our houses and structures are being demolished as well as shelters for the animals and agricultural infrastructure.

Israeli authorities have given the settlers power that allows them to find any excuse to attack us and for more demolitions to happen. The settlers come wearing military uniforms and armed with guns, so it is very frightening. They are able to decide where to set up more checkpoints and coordinate the attacks on us so that is why we say that we are being ruled by the “settler” authority.

In the past, we Palestinians would call the DCO* to report settler attacks on us and there would be response with Israeli authorities restoring order. However, over the last few months when we call the DCO, they either do nothing at all or they come to us and say that they can’t do anything because they are afraid that the settlers will attack them.

It is also very hard to move around the Masafer Yatta area because due to the roadblocks, there is only one road left open and it’s the worst road, poorly constructed and awful to drive on.

It is almost impossible for the Palestinians in Masafer Yatta to make a living. We rely on use of our agricultural land and our animals for income. We cannot access huge amounts of our land. People applied to the Israeli court for permission to get access to their land, but they were denied. This also meant that we could not reach our olive trees at harvest time, so we lack the olive oil that we relied on. In addition, two people from Masafer Yatta were shot and killed for attempting to reach their olive trees.

Awdah - As a journalist, I used to go to neighbouring villages to document and film happenings but with the roads blocked since October 7th, it is difficult to do this. This also affects human rights activists who also cannot easily reach the villages.

So many of our phones and cameras have been confiscated. Arrests are now not formalised. When they happen, they are done by masked men, and we cannot tell if they are the settlers or the Israeli army doing this.

The arrests can be brutal and occur weekly. It happened to my cousin when he was arrested – I say “kidnapped”. We didn’t know where he’d been taken and only found out later when someone from the family saw him on a TikTok posting. The Israelis put their fingers into my cousin’s eyes. When he was returned to us, he was severely traumatized, and he still is; he’s not the same person.

Nidal – Israelis are not abiding by the law. Our Israeli lawyer has complained 37 times to the regional court about one of the settlers, but nothing ever happened, so he went to the high court. The high court asked the military commander of the West Bank to appear in the court but to date nothing has happened. The settlers are not being brought to account.

The Israeli Civil Administration has confiscated our mobile clinics and even the cars used for vaccinations have been confiscated. Some of our schools have been destroyed so all of this has massively impacted the lives of women and children.

Before October 7th, people in Masafer Yatta found it hard to get food and supplies due to road closures and checkpoints but now it is so much worse. Think of getting an ambulance and reaching a hospital. Whereas in the past getting someone would take one hour, now it can take seven or eight hours to reach somewhere.

Awdah – A woman went into labour, so an ambulance was called. This was at 10pm but the ambulance didn’t arrive until 4am. For us, tractors have become the main means of transportation.

ICAHD UK – I asked if there had been any repercussions of the newly released documentary ‘No Other Land’ which has just won awards at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Nidal – Basel Adra, Yuval Abraham and the people working on the film are our personal friends. The film shows the life of activists here. It shows the facts of our lives and represents us. The film also illustrates that Israelis and Palestinians can work together and it proves that they can live in peace! But the Israelis don’t want that seen. It doesn’t want the world to know that reality. We are waiting for Basel and Yuval to come back to Masafer Yatta because we want to have a big party for them.

ICAHD UK – My final request was to ask Nidal and Awdah to talk about climate change and if there was any positive news that they could share.

Nidal – It was over 40 degrees last summer in Masafer Yatta so, yes, the heat has been a huge challenge for Palestinians who are trying to make an income from their land. Israel has uprooted thousands of trees over the last year. Water networks have been destroyed by settlers and our water tanks are confiscated so with all this combined, we see the desert expanding out, getting bigger and bigger. Our lives are terrible because of Israel’s occupation policies and because of what it does, climate change is even worse for us.

Awdah - The settler that President Biden recently sanctioned was the one who destroyed one of the water networks in Masafer Yatta. As it is, we can only get water for seven hours a week, so life is harsh.

Nidal – Having internationals present in Masafer Yatta is very important for us. Because of October 7th, internationals left so Palestinians felt very alone. But now it is starting to pick up again and currently there is international representation in seven of our villages. They come for three months and provide protective presence for families in the villages. This also enables the internationals to witness firsthand what is happening and to report on it.

Palestinians have been waiting for justice for 75 years. Thousands of people have been displaced and killed and there has been no real action to date to stop that. We have come to London to do something for our people. We are here representing them because we, as Palestinians, have a lot to say. For us, this has been an amazing visit and we have been telling people back home what we have been doing while we’ve been here.

*District Coordination Office coordinates and monitors the movement of Palestinians in and out of, and within, the West Bank and Gaza.

Masafer Yatta – South Hebron Hills