by Sanaa Kamal
RAMALLAH, May 15 (Xinhua) -- After 20 years of endless waiting, many Palestinians living in the villages of Masafer Yatta in the West Bank are threatened with the demolition of their homes and the forced eviction from their land.
The 12-member family of Mohammed Jabarin from Jinba village, one of 12 villages in the area, is among those who were forcibly displaced in 1999 after Israeli authorities expelled them and demolished their houses, where they had lived for decades.
"We were expelled in order to implement an Israeli decision in 1981 to turn our villages into a military shooting range for the Israeli army," the 67-year-old man told Xinhua.
They were finally able to go back home after the Association for Civil Rights in Israel helped them to challenge the decision in 1999.
Despite their return, the Israeli court did not overturn the decision, but postponed its implementation for many years without allowing them to live normally like other Palestinian cities and villages in the West Bank, Jabarin said.
Since then, Jabarin's family has lived in isolated communities in the West Bank, which is considered one of the most vulnerable areas due to local residents' limited access to education and health services, as well as water, sanitation, and electricity facilities.
The Israeli authorities also ban them from building homes. "We have no urban homes, electricity, infrastructure, markets and even food," Jabarin noted.
"All residents of the village have documents and proof that we are the original inhabitants of this area and that our fathers and grandfathers lived here even before the founding of the state of Israel in 1948," Jabarin added, as he carried official documents issued prior to 1948.
To make matters worse, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected on May 4 a petition submitted by residents of the 12 Masafer Yatta residential communities. The petition challenged an Israeli decision issued in 1981 that required the complete closure of the Masafer area and its transformation into military training areas for the Israeli army, which is dubbed "Field of Shooting 918."
The plaintiffs "failed to prove that they were permanent residents in that area before it was declared as a military training area," according to the Israeli court, adding the areas were "completely devoid of residents, and those who lived there were illegal."
The Supreme Court is the highest judicial body in Israel, and the decision to evacuate the Yatta residents cannot be overturned.
Jabarin said he would not recognize the court's final decision. The Israeli authorities "may compel us to emigrate, but we will not allow that, even if we have to defend our land by all the means available to us," he stressed.
"My family's fate, as well as the fate of thousands of other people living in the area, are under threat," he added.
Umm Ahmed, Jabarin's wife, feels the same as her husband.
"I endured the hardships of life in the village of Jinba in order to preserve our land and property that we inherited from our ancestors," she said, adding that "she fears the displacement of her family and a life without any shelter if Israel forces the demolition of their homes."
The village of Jinba, with a population of about 300, is under Israeli security and administrative control, according to the Oslo Accord agreement signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993.
"Turning the area into a military zone is an Israeli way to expel Palestinians from their land and use it to build and expand settlements," Nidal Younis, head of the local council in Masafer Yatta, told Xinhua.
Peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis suspended in 2014. The Israeli settlement is one of the most prominent issues of dispute between the two sides.
Israeli and Palestinian estimates indicate that there are more than 650,000 Israeli settlers who are present in 164 settlements and 124 outposts in the West Bank and Jerusalem, according to a report issued by the Palestinian Statistics Center. ■