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Israeli forces raid protest camp aimed at restoring Palestinian village in Hebron

May 21, 2017 11:47 A.M. (Updated: May 21, 2017 8:10 P.M.)
HEBRON (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces raided a protest camp near the village of Yatta in the Southern Hebron Hills of the occupied West Bank on Saturday night, confiscating tents used by locals and activists attempting to restore the depopulated Palestinian community of Sarura, whose residents were expelled by Israeli forces between 1980 and 1998.

Coordinator for Hebron-based Youth Against Settlements (YAS) Issa Amro told Ma’an that Israeli forces raided the area without showing any military orders or providing justification for the raid and dismantlement of the “Sumud: Freedom Camp,” established only a day earlier.

“They started pushing the activists, shouting, and intimidating everyone. They switched off the electricity generator, and left us unable to see what was happening around us. We felt scared for all of the activists,” Amro said.

According to Amro, some 150-200 Jewish activists and local Palestinians were at the site at the time of the raid. Israeli forces then began to rip down tents and confiscate equipment, including the generator, sound system, and data projectors used by the activists to hold educational events at the site, Amro said.

However, Amro added that he and other activists still did not leave the site, and stayed there without shelter. He confirmed that the activists would continue their actions until the depopulated community of Sarura was restored to its Palestinian residents.

No detentions were reported.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, told Ma'an that "a number of illegal constructions were found in the Maon Ranch vicinity," referring to one of the illegal Israeli settlements surrounding Sarura.

"The constructions were built without receiving the required permits, two days before the enforcement took place. The outpost was built in a military firing zone while risking lives, and the entrance is forbidden," the spokesperson said.

The Palestinian community of Sarura is located in the Masafer Yatta area of the South Hebron Hills. The residents of Sarura, along with several other villages in the area, were expelled from their lands between 1980 and 1999 owing to Israeli military orders and threats of settler attacks, according to the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ), a Bethlehem-based research center.

The communities are located in Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under Israeli military control. Palestinians are not permitted to build in Area C without nearly impossible to obtain Israeli-issued building permits.

Residents of Masafer Yatta have mainly lived in natural caves, with many holding Ottoman-era land ownership titles to their lands in the area. Five Israeli settlements -- constructed on Palestinian territory in violation of international law, comprising of at least 1,600 Israeli settlers, have been established in the area, according to ARIJ.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israeli authorities have declared thousands of dunams of lands in the area as Israeli “state land” since the 1970s, and leased the land to the World Zionist Organization, which in turn allotted the land for the development of Israeli settlements.

In 1999, the expulsion of the communities was fast tracked after the Israeli army declared the area a “Firing Zone,” and evicted the residents from their homes and prevented their access to the land, OCHA reported, adding that Israeli authorities have maintained that the families were seasonal dwellers, and not permanent residents, and therefore were residing on the lands illegally.

Amro told Ma’an that the aim of the action in Sarura was to restore the depopulated community. Palestinian activists, along with dozens of Jewish activists, have escorted the expelled residents of the community back to Sarura, where they set up tents and erected a protest camp.

In addition, Amro said, the activists have been assisting the expelled residents develop infrastructure in the area and restore the natural caves that had once served as their shelter. They also provide protection to the residents from settler attacks, and have helped the residents access their lands that have been off-limits to them for nearly two decades.
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