On 14 January, Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers attacked Palestinians protesting against the stealing of Palestinian land in Masafer Yatta by a settler. Masafer Yatta is a community of 12 Palestinian villages to the south of Hebron in the Occupied West Bank.
Witnesses said the soldiers fired tear gas at them and at their homes, suffocating dozens of people, according to the Palestinian WAFA news agency. The soldiers then set up checkpoints on the roads to prevent supporters and residents of other nearby communities joining the protests. They also detained a WAFA photojournalist, Mashhour Wehwah, for several hours.
Such incidents are common in the area, a rural area in the South Hebron Hills inhabited mostly by Palestinian herders.
In the 1980s, the area was classified as a military training zone by the IDF. This has led to years of legal battles and harassment of inhabitants, including the destruction of water cisterns, solar panels, roads and buildings by IDF soldiers and Israeli settlers.
In the West Bank, it has become more and more common for Israeli settlers, either individually or in groups, to set up a structure somewhere in order to lay claim to a large patch of Palestinian land.
In April last year, the Israeli supreme court refused to overturn the designation of Masafer Yatta as a military training zone, accepting the IDF argument that the Palestinians living there are illegal occupants since they couldn’t ‘prove’ they were resident before the training zone was established.
On 31 December, the UN general assembly passed a resolution calling on the World Court to give an opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. (The general assembly has found the occupation illegal in the past.)
Palestinian leaders welcomed the vote, with senior official Hussein al-Sheikh saying it reflected ‘the victory of Palestinian diplomacy’.
Israel, the US, the UK, Germany and 22 other nations voted against the resolution. France was among 53 nations that abstained.
‘The time has come for Israel to be a state subject to law, and to be held accountable for its ongoing crimes against our people,’ said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.