Israeli Supreme Court rejects appeal to save two schools from demolition in Masafer Yatta

The petition was filed to protect two schools and 32 other structures, including a health clinic, from demolition in the heart of Masafer Yatta. 

The Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition against the demolition of two schools and dozens of other structures in Masafer Yatta in the southern occupied West Bank, putting the structures at imminent risk of demolition. 

The petition was filed to protect two schools and 32 other structures, including a health clinic, from demolition in the villages of Khirbet al-Fakheet and Jinba, which lie in the heart of an Israeli military firing zone in the middle of Masafer Yatta. 

Khirbet al-Fakheet and Jinba are two of eight villages that were named in a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court in May, in which the court ruled that the Israeli army could demolish the eight villages and expel its residents so the land could be used as a firing zone. 

For more than 20 years the residents fought against a plan by the Israeli military to expel them from their homes, under the pretext that they were living “illegally” in a firing zone. The communities of Masafer Yatta date their presence in the area back decades before it was declared as a firing zone in the 1980s. 

The decision in May paved the way for the forcible displacement of an estimated 1,300 Palestinians, and the demolition of close to 900 structures, including homes, livestock pens, schools, clinics, mosques, water cisterns, and latrines. 

After the decision in May, the lawyers representing the residents of Masafer Yatta filed several appeals against the demolition of a number of structures in the firing zone. One of those appeals was rejected on Sunday, putting the two schools in Khirbet al-Fakheet and Jinba at imminent risk of demolition. 

The schools are two of four schools in Masafer Yatta that service hundreds of children from the surrounding areas from primary school up until high school. 

Mondoweiss traveled to Khirbet al-Fakheet in July to visit the residents there. Majda Abu Sabha, who lives just a few meters away from the school, told Mondoweiss that Israeli forces had demolished her home three times since the start of the year. 

“We aren’t bothering them [Israel], this is our home. Where are we supposed to go?” Abu Sabha asked at the time. “We have no other alternative to this place. We are under constant threat. At any moment they can come and take our homes. Where will we go?”

Israeli human rights lawyer Netta Amar-Shiff, who is representing the residents of Masafer Yatta and filed the petition that was rejected on Sunday, told Mondoweiss that since the Supreme Court ruling in May, Israeli forces have ramped up demolitions in the Firing Zone.

“These precedents highlighted the intention to forcibly displace the villages through demolitions rather than risk international criticism through personal eviction of people,” Amar-Shiff said.

Following the court’s rejection of the petition on Sunday, residents told Mondoweiss that they feared it is not going to be the last rejection they see.

“After yesterday’s decision there will be more decisions and rejections of our appeals,” Sami Hureini, a local activist and resident of Masafer Yatta, told Mondoweiss, warning that the demolitions could happen “at any moment.”

Hureini urged action from the international community, saying “what’s happening in Masafer Yatta is a war crime, and the whole world should be paying attention.”

“We need urgent action to protect the people of Masafer Yatta from being expelled from our homes. We need real action from the international community, and we need it now,” he said. “Time is running out.”