Earlier this year, the University of Miami’s J Street U chapter shared an Instagram post about Masafer Yatta, a region in Area C of the West Bank under Israeli civil and military control.
The group’s post promotes the narrative that the Israeli government is “carrying out a mass eviction of Palestinian communities” in Masafer Yatta, a campaign that J Street National began promoting heavily this January.
Masafer Yatta is an area in the South Hebron hills; a desert with very rough terrain, the territory lacks water and arable land.
While the region was only designated a firing zone in the early 1980s by then-agriculture minister (and later prime minister) Ariel Sharon, a thorough investigation by the Israeli High Court of Justice maintains that no permanent settlements existed prior to the rezoning of the area for military operations.
Furthermore, advocacy organization Freedom House counters the claim that Israeli Supreme Court ruling aligns with the interests of the Israeli government stating, “[Israel’s] Supreme Court has historically played a crucial role in protecting minority groups and overturning decisions by the government and the parliament when they threaten human rights”.
Evidence presented to corroborate this includes aerial photography provided by the Israel Defense Forces and an ethnographic study conducted by Israeli anthropologist Yaakov Havakook who also concluded that no permanent dwellings existed in the region.
The facts stand: all state land designated for military use, including Masafer Yatta featured no permanent settlements in over a century, even under Jordanian occupation and Ottoman rule.
Such evidence disproves the claim levied by Palestinians, who interestingly only began taking legal action in 1997 — over seventeen years from when the alleged displacement from their homes began.
While it is true that some Arabs keep a nomadic lifestyle and may use land seasonally or for agricultural purposes, this does not preclude the Israeli government from rezoning areas under their jurisdiction for military purposes, nor does it constitute an illegal eviction as University of Miami’s J Street implies in their post.
Before the court ruling, Palestinians turned down an offer that would allow them to cultivate the land and herd livestock there on the weekends and Jewish holidays, when the army doesn’t conduct drills.
J Street also omits the fact that many of these Palestinian “residents” have permanent homes in the nearby village of Yatta as well as other villages.
Thus, the claim that the Israeli government is instituting an unlawful eviction of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta is a gravely misleading account.
J Street at UM should present situations with accurate information and sufficient context. UM students deserve much better. If students are interested in hearing the truth when it comes to the Israeli-Arab conflict, they should find reputable sources on and off campus such as CAMERA and Students Supporting Israel.
UM’s Chapter of J Street declined a request for comment.
This article was originally published in the Florida Heritage Jewish News.