JERUSALEM — The Israeli military has destroyed homes, water tanks and olive groves in two Palestinian villages in the southern West Bank, where some residents are at risk of imminent deportation, residents and activists said on Wednesday.
One of the villages whose structures were destroyed on Tuesday is part of the arid West Bank called Masafer Yatta, which the Israeli military has designated as a live-fire training area. About 1,000 residents of the eight villages that make up Masafer Yatta are expected to be deported, an order that Israel’s Supreme Court upheld in May after a two-decade legal battle.
According to images shared by locals and activists, armored vehicles escorted construction equipment to the demolition site in the villages of Ma’in and Shaab al-Butum, part of Masafer Yatta.
Guy Butavia, an activist with Israeli human rights group Taayush, said the army razed five houses, cattle sheds and water tanks, spilling people’s belongings into the frigid desert.
“They come and destroy your house. It’s winter now. Cold weather. What’s next? Where will they sleep that night?” he say.
Most residents in the area have remained in place since the ruling, even as Israeli security forces periodically stormed in to destroy structures. But they could be forced to leave at any time.
Local officials and human rights groups say Israeli defense officials have informed them that they will soon force more than 1,000 residents out of the area.
“There is real concern that a serious war crime will be committed,” said Roni Pelli, a lawyer working with ACRI.
COGAT, Israel’s defense agency that deals with Palestinian civil affairs, declined to comment.
Both villages are within 60% of the occupied West Bank known as Area C, where the Israeli military exercises full control under temporary peace agreements reached with the Palestinians in the 1990s. Palestinian structures built without military permits – which residents say are nearly impossible to obtain – are in danger of being demolished.
Tuesday’s demolition comes amid a new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where business advocates settling in Israel’s West Bank hold influential portfolios. and is expected to both promote settlement construction and prevent construction for Palestinians in Area C.
Families living in Masafer Yatta say they herded sheep and goats throughout the region long before Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.
But Israel said the nomadic Bedouin Arabs had no fortifications when the military declared the area a firing and training area in the early 1980s. In November 1999, security forces expelled it. about 700 villagers and destroyed houses and water tanks.
A 20-year legal battle began the following year, ending in 2022 with Israel’s Supreme Court denying an additional hearing in October on deportations.
While previous Israeli governments have demolished homes in the area for decades, the current government is expected to step up demolition in the area.