Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn is very concerned about the fate of the inhabitants of Masafer Yatta, including about what their displacement, if it were to be enforced, could mean for current efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East. The forcible transfer of protected civilians - defined by the Geneva Convention as Persons "who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals” - is considered a war crime under international law. The same applies to an occupying power that "transfer[s] parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”. The situation in Masafer Yatta remains very tense and Masafer Yatta risks suffering the same fate as Ein Samiya, whose inhabitants were forcibly displaced in May.
It is essential that the international community assumes its responsibilities and pays due attention to the escalating situation in areas such as Masafer Yatta - in the interests of a two-State solution and a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
Masafer Yatta is an area located in a semi-desert region in the hills south of Hebron in the West Bank, home to twelve Palestinian villages with a total population of roughly 2,800 people, including some 500 children. The area is part of the 60% of the occupied West Bank designated as Area C, under Israeli military and administrative authority. Palestinian farming communities have lived there for generations.
However, in the early 1980s, the Masafer Yatta area was designated by Israel as the "firing zone 918”, i.e. a military training area, making the inhabitants illegal residents in their own homes. Since then, the residents of Masafer Yatta have fought in the Israeli courts for the right to remain on their land, even though most of them had documents proving their ownership. Nonetheless, on 4 May 2022, the Israeli High Court rejected the residents' petition and gave the army the green light to forcibly evict said communities at any time.
Ever since, the remaining inhabitants of Masafer Yatta have been regularly subjected to harassment by Israeli security forces, living under the daily threat of eviction. The Israeli army regularly demolishes Palestinian homes and infrastructure and organizes military trainings in and around the villages. The families of Masafer Yatta are also given only restricted access to their land, electricity, roads, water sources, schools, medical services and hospitals. Added to this is the almost daily violence perpetrated by settlers in the region. Living under extreme duress, many of the inhabitants have already been compelled to leave their homes.
Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs
Articles 4 & 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention : https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/geneva-convention-relative-protection-civilian-persons-time-war
Under the UN Security Council Resolution 2334 of 2016, Israel is bound “to scrupulously respect its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention”, thus confirming its applicability in the occupied Palestinian territories : https://www.un.org/webcast/pdfs/SRES2334-2016.pdf