Israeli military drills in Masafer Yatta turn Palestinian villages into a shooting range

Ali Awad

Mondoweiss  /  July 27, 2022

Don’t let the Israeli suspension of military training in Masafer Yatta during Biden’s visit fool you. The threat we continue to face is very real.

We have lived through more than a month of live-fire military exercises with inside Masafer Yatta following an Israeli High Court decision on May 4.

U.S. President Joe Biden has spoken clearly of his commitment to human rights since he began his presidency, and we had hoped that he would at least acknowledge what could soon become the largest forced displacement of Palestinians ever since 1967 during his recent visit to Palestine. However, the day before President Biden landed in Tel Aviv, the Israeli army canceled live ammunition training in our villages for the duration of his visit. It is now clear for everyone to see that the only time the daily injustices against us are paused is when it helps the US administration to ignore its complicity in the violation of our human rights.

Make no mistake, the danger is real: last week, bullets from a machine gun reached the roof of a family’s house in the village of Halat al-Dab’a.

The High Court ruled in favor of the Israeli military and gave it the green light to turn our native land into a military training zone, potentially leading to our forced displacement. Almost immediately, tanks  flattened our agricultural lands and soldiers fired artillery bombs, while setting up practice targets that they riddled liberally with bullets from within farmers’ fields.

A group of soldiers was filmed shooting targets outside the elementary school in the village of Al-Majaz, and the military carried out these exercises without a care for the danger it posed to the lives of thousands of people living in this area. 

Make no mistake, the danger is real: last week, bullets from a machine gun reached the roof of a family’s house in the village of Halat al-Dab’a.

Of course, military training is not the only way Israel attempts to make our lives unbearable and force us from our homes. It has exerted pressure on us a number of ways — through the bulldozing of dozens of homes days after a demolition ruling, leaving children in the villages of Al-Fakhit and Al-Mirkiz without a roof over their heads. The army photographs local residents to track them and their families, and has confiscated their personal vehicles. Even on our recent holiday, Eid al-Adha, the soldiers did not respect our religious practice of visiting relatives and friends to celebrate. Instead, they abused my uncle in front of his children and confiscated his car keys.

None of these practices are new. For decades, we have been suffering from policies that seek to advance forced displacement. Enough time has passed that this ought to be clear to the US government. The US administration bears responsibility for decades of inaction and direct support of the occupation through its annual 3.8 billion dollars of military aid to Israel–money which Israel uses to violate our basic human rights on our own land. 

If Biden’s visit to the region included a tour of our villages, he would have seen the ways in which the military is persecuting us–the way our homes have been turned from shepherding villages into shooting ranges, or how we are now surrounded by tanks and weapons instead of grazing fields and agricultural land. Israel may think that it can cover up this reality by canceling its training drills for a week, but we in Masafer Yatta are committed to exposing our reality and ensuring that US military aid is not used against us.

The training in Masafer Yatta and all it entails are set to continue next week. President Biden must know the truth: our homes and our lives are in danger, and his administration must act. 

Ali Awad is an activist and journalist from the village of Tuba in Masafer Yatta