In May, the Israeli high court rubber-stamped the forced expulsion of more than 1,000 Palestinians from eight villages in the area.
If Israel carries through with the forcible transfer – a war crime – it will be one of the single largest expulsions of Palestinians since 1967.
“Here is the most clear image of apartheid,” Adra says.
“They keep expanding on our land every day, getting farms, getting infrastructure to steal more of our land as backed by the state, getting all this support – while the same state comes to demolish our homes and to do this military exercise for a very clear goal, which is to evacuate us as Palestinians from this land” and deliver it to Israeli settlers, he adds.The exercises that the Israeli military is undertaking in Masafer Yatta will be the first in the area involving live fire in more than two decades, according to Haaretz.
During those 20 years, Palestinian residents of the area petitioned Israeli courts against approving the military’s claims to their land as it would effectively allow for their forced transfer.
Last year, Israel conducted a military drill lasting days in Masafer Yatta, driving tanks next to a village’s school, clinic and mosque and damaging agricultural land and residential structures.
And in mid-June, Israeli tanks were driven into the Masafer Yatta area and placed shooting targets on private Palestinian property.
Adra tells us that he has faced numerous beatings by Israeli forces, as well as home raids.
This past May, he says he was “brutally attacked personally and physically beaten up by the occupation soldiers near my home here, while I was documenting them come to take down our sheep shelter for no reason.”
“My father was detained twice, I was beaten – they tried hard to take my phone while beating up a solidarity activist as well, [and] took his camera.”
He explains that when his camera was confiscated in 2020, Israeli soldiers removed the SD memory card that contained footage of settlers chasing a shepherd.
Settlers have attacked journalists and activists with dogs and live fire, he adds. “So this is how it is to be a journalist on the ground.”
Articles we discussed
- “Israel to dissolve government to preserve apartheid,” Maureen Clare Murphy
- “Masafer Yatta evictions enabled by British-born judge,” Omar Zahzah
- “Why can’t my sister sleep at night? Because soldiers keep raiding our home,” Basil Adra, +972 Magazine
- “Army stands by as settlers attack activists in Masafer Yatta,” Oren Ziv, +972 Magazine
- “Watch: Soldiers assault +972 writer Basil Adra,” +972 Magazine
Video production by Tamara Nassar
Theme music by Sharif Zakout
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Lightly edited for clarity.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Welcome back to The Electronic Intifada Podcast, I’m Nora Barrows Friedman. We turn to the situation in Masafer Yatta, an area in the south Hebron hills in the occupied West Bank, where the Israeli military is attempting to turn the region of Palestinian villages into a firing zone.
In May, the Israeli high court rubber-stamped the forced expulsion of more than 1,000 Palestinians from eight villages in the area. If Israel carries through with the forcible transfer, which is a war crime, it will be one of the single largest expulsions of Palestinians since 1967. The exercises that the Israeli military is undertaking in Masafer Yatta will be the first in the area involving live fire in more than two decades, according to Haaretz. During those 20 years, Palestinian residents of the area petitioned Israeli courts against approving the military’s claims to their land as it was – as it would effectively allow for their forced transfer. Last year, Israel conducted a military drill lasting two or three days in Masafer Yatta, driving tanks next to the village’s school, clinic and mosque and damaging agricultural land and residential structures.
David Mintz, one of the three justices who issued the Masafer Yatta verdict in May, was born in England, and lives in Dolev, a settlement in the West Bank built in violation of international law. And in mid-June, Israeli tanks rolled into the Masafer Yatta area and placed shooting targets on private Palestinian property.
Joining us to talk about the situation in Masafer Yatta is Basel Adra. Basel is a journalist based in Masafer Yatta and has been covering the news inside the area. Basel, thank you so much for being with us today on The Electronic Intifada Podcast.
Basel Adra: Thank you for having me.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you live there in Masafer Yatta.
Basel Adra: So I live in a village called al-Tuwani in Masafer Yatta. I am an activist and journalist. I’ve been raised by activist parents. My parents have been activists since longtime, confronting that occupation and trying to resist the condition and try to create more, better conditions and get our life requirements. So they’ve been succeeding in some, in some of their resistance and on the other side also, they paid the price, mostly my father who has been arrested over 10 times and being brutally attacked in the field. I mean, succeeding in getting some of our life requirements should be normal, and we should have these life requirements. But because we are under occupation, under military control, our life has been going on very hard and soldiers and settlers on the ground are putting us in very harsh conditions. So we – like they became activists and me as well, in this situation.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Basel, let’s talk about what’s happening right now outside your window. You posted a video on Twitter on June 28 of the Israeli military placing targets on one of the main roads and opening fire. Just a week before that you posted to Twitter that “tons of Israeli soldiers just started training in Masafer Yatta, they’re driving war tanks near the school as children watch terrified, they’re placing targets on cars and windows, they’re doing this to evict us in the most brutal way possible.”
Tell us about that. And, you know, and what keeps happening. I mean, you know, this Israeli court order happened in May, tanks are already starting to act like this is, you know, a done deal.
Basel Adra: So after the court decision on the fourth of May, the Israeli occupation army on the ground announced that they’re going to start the military exercises in the area and between the communities and nearby houses, and the structure of the communities. They even in the beginning asked specifically to evacuate the people in the area out of their homes for the military exercises, and then they withdrew that request. Even though they keep doing these military exercises, according to them, it will keep for one month, for now it started last week, this week as well.
And there is another two weeks that they’re gonna bring in tanks and like doing live fire shooting and the drones, all like around their military exercise, which is a fake tool and the fake brutal tools that they’re using, as our areas of firing zone, they’re just doing it to evacuate us as Palestinians from the area of Masafer Yatta toward Area A, it is Yatta and the big Palestinian cities and evacuate us from Area C where our home is to make more room for Israeli settlers. Here is the most clear image of apartheid, there is Israeli illegal outposts, even illegal for the Israeli national law as they are according to them, they are – they’re in the firing zone, but they keep expanding on our land every day, getting farms, getting infrastructure to steal more of our land as backed by the state, getting all this support. While the same – the same state comes to demolish our homes and to do this military exercise for a very clear goal which is to evacuate us as Palestinians from this land and to make it for the Jews.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Give us a sense of how the community is fighting back. What has been happening in terms of any resistance to the encroachment of the Israeli military and the plans to confiscate your land and villages? What’s been happening to activists and just, you know, regular community members who are trying to resist this?
Basel Adra: I think a lot of community members are tired and exhausted from this life. I mean, the step – and the main step they are taking is to keep staying in their homes and facing these harsh conditions. This is going on for the case. It’s not just from the fourth of May, we’ve been reporting about this for a long time and this has been happening before I was born here in Masafer Yatta, because the commission of our land as a firing zone area came out in the early of the ’80s. So since then people have paid hundreds or thousands of demolitions of the structures, starting from caves, tents, homes, bulldozing roads, cutting water supply and no electricity. So living and facing this harsh condition is the main resistance that the people are doing here in Masafer Yatta.
The other resistance that we are doing, since this like decision has come out we are mainly protesting on Friday, on the highway, on the entrances of the villages, peacefully we carrying signs and flags and chanting and carrying signs also, but always the occupation army, police and settlers are terrorizing our protests. In one of the protests that’s happening, which happened in Masafer Yatta, settlers were involved in the oppression of the protests, with the occupation soldiers standing next to the soldiers throwing stones. There was a video that was published when a settler from the outpost Mitzpe Yair threw a stone at two Israeli left-wing activists and solidarity activists who came to the area and injured two girls. And we see in the video, the soldier stands nearby and lets the settler run back to his outpost without arresting him. In another protest also, the same settlers from the same outposts were throwing stones at journalists’ cars and broken their glasses, as well injured two Palestinian activists and one of them were injured brutally on his nose and got his nose broken by settler violence.
Today we just had a protest, they detained also, the Israeli occupation soldiers – they detained a disabled Palestinian guy and at least four solidarity activists. And this has been going on since the decision that came out, as well there is that military exercise that comes and limits the movement of people and within that the army, the occupation army sets up tents in the area in between the communities and the main road, confiscating Palestinians’ cars under the pretext of their moving in the firing zone area for three days almost they detained two activists and confiscated their cars, and this has been going on since the decision.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Basel, you’re a young journalist and I mean what is it like being a journalist trying to cover what’s happening in your neighborhood for, you know, the outside world, for local media inside Palestine, you know, especially in the wake of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh? What is it like working as a journalist right now?
Basel Adra: The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh was a crime that’s really terrible and heartbreaking after getting that news. Me and other activists and journalists on the ground here we’re really putting ourselves at risk to document what’s going on, to show the truth and what’s really happening on the ground while the Israeli media or the Israeli occupation forces try always to lie and to upside down the truth. My home, for example, was raided in December 2021 and the occupation forces raided my home, confiscated five cameras and laptops and the car that I use alongside other activists to document their crimes in the area.
I’ve also been in May brutally attacked personally and physically beaten up by the occupation soldiers in nearby my home here, while I was documenting them come to take down our sheep shelter for no reason, except I’m there to document them. And they just let me go until they was sure that I got brutally like beaten and injured and all. I needed an ambulance to take me to the hospital. As well, for example, in the beginning of the pandemic of corona 2020, I was also beaten up by the soldiers and my camera was taken away, and they took off the SD card that I filmed them chasing a shepherd within – the settlers from the outpost nearby. Always, always facing this kind of stuff on the ground. Also, my home was raided at night, from February till today, at least seven times, not just my home but other homes in the community as well, take arrests, my father was detained twice, I was beaten, they tried hard to take my phone, while beating up a solidarity activist as well, took his camera. The same thing with this from the settlers also the ground – attacked by dogs, by stones, live fire, shooting that they do next to the soldiers, breaking our cameras. So this is how it is to be a journalist on the ground.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: I’m really glad you’re okay. Let’s talk a little bit more about the court ruling. As I mentioned in the introduction, one of the Israeli high court judges who issued the ethnic cleansing verdicts for Masafer Yatta is a settler living in an illegal settlement colony in the West Bank who represents settlers and the army that protects them, who obviously has a stake in the expulsion of your community. As our editor Maureen Murphy put it, “settler-colonialism is the single organizing principle of the state of Israel.” Can you talk about this and the significance of the ongoing ethnic cleansing that’s happening in Masafer Yatta and what that says about what Palestinians are facing right now?
Basel Adra: You know, like this designation where in the beginning of the ’80s where they decided our land is a firing zone it came out from an Israeli, Ariel Sharon, who was at that time, the minister of agricultural ministry, so he said he wants to do this firing zone area in the West Bank, which is 18 percent of the West Bank as a firing zone area. And he said actually in the document that is going to be for the settlers and the future for the settlers and the settlement. For example, in our area, 2,000 dunums, 12 communities, were declared a firing zone, which means they’re going to remove them and to build settlements and outposts for the Israeli settlers to come and live here.
This is what’s going on on the ground, actually, they’re always squeezing and demolishing our homes. And, on the other hand, there are outposts, and settlements expanding and getting all the infrastructure that they want. In 1999, there was the brutal evacuation of the people of Masafer Yatta. When I was three years old, 700 people were brought in trucks with their stuff for their sheep, and all their homes were wiped out. And were, like, taken away by the Israeli occupation military trucks, without any alternative solution. And they just throw them in the landscape, and to other communities which are not in the firing zone. Six months the people were trying to go back and live in the land, or at least work their land and to harvest the wheat and cultivate the land. Lots of them were arrested and detained when they were trying, a lot of their sheep were confiscated by the military. After six months, they got a military – temporary court decision that they can go on their land until the final court decision comes out.
So all these 22 years, they were fighting in a legal battle to save their land and to keep living in their homes. The people brought each and every single piece of evidence that they could to prove for this court, for the court to prove that they were communities existing here decades before. One of the pieces of evidence is aerial photos that were before 1948 and to show that there were structures and communities in the area. And the answer of this judge within the occupation court, they said yes there are the structures but how can we tell that there was life in these structures? And the other excuse they said is the people of Masafer Yatta like us, we brought the evidence late like after 20 years, and it took them 22 years.
That means for them to be late because we do like the people here did the appeal in 1999, which means the area was declared a firing zone in 1981. And all people did that appeal only when they were evacuated and before a lot of people didn’t know that the land was a firing zone or was declared like this. Even though there were no human rights organizations working in the area, no lawyers, simply people who really don’t understand the law, the law of the occupation which is imposed on us, and we don’t choose it, and we don’t vote for it. It’s just opposing or not by gun. So since 2000 they started to bring in evidence, and from 2000 to 2022, like the fourth of May 2022, it took the court to check this whole evidence and to come up with a decision that the people were very late in bringing in this evidence. And this shows that this is just a political decision and not a judgment, as you mentioned, take this decision, according to his ideology, which is he is living in a settlement so he wants more settlers to come in all over the West Bank and to keep colonizing the area and ethnic cleansing the Palestinians.
It is very clear, it’s on the table that the apartheid is very clear in front of the international community and just those governments who keep supporting Israel with their dollars, with their money and keep funding this occupation, soldiers who use the money to demolish our homes, our sheep shelters, expanding settlements, shaking us in our land. And it’s all hypocrisy. You know, no one wants a big fight. No one wants to really protect human rights. No one wants to fight for Palestinian rights. It’s all condemning and sending statements but without any serious steps.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Basel, how are people in Masafer Yatta able to fight back after this court ruling? What are their legal options at this point?
Basel Adra: No legal option after this like for the Israeli occupation force because this is the highest court decision. The lawyers tried to do something this month, in July, but no – no expectation that this will change the de facto or the decision that was taken. I believe that there is our work on the ground, our steadfastness on the ground, and to create a movement through the media and the international community to put pressure through this, through the international authorities on the Israeli authorities to stop what they are doing.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: And what can people outside of Palestine do right now to support the people of Masafer Yatta and enact that kind of pressure?
Basel Adra: I mean, sharing our stories, keep writing and talking about Masafer Yatta. Also, if they can come on the ground to be in solidarity, being in our protests, being a protective presence, with the shepherds, with the school students in the community, doing the training, as well as protesting and sending letters to their representatives and their representatives in the government to take serious steps against this and to stop this.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: That’s the voice of Basel Adra. He is a young journalist, working and living in Masafer Yatta, an area in the south Hebron Hills. Basel, if people want to follow you on Twitter, what is your Twitter handle?
Basel Adra: You want to put the link? My name is @Basel_Adra, I don’t know if you want the link there?
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Sure. Yeah, we can just – let’s see I have it up here.
Basel Adra: Also, I write for +972 Magazine in articles, you can find out, read more in detail about the story of Masafer Yatta.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Great. So +972 Magazine, and also your Twitter handle is @Basel_Adra. That’s Basel underscore Adra. Basel, thank you so much. Please be safe and we’ll have you back on very soon.