Hamad Melhem al Hudarat is watching other Palestinians in the village of Khirbet Zanuta in the South Hebron Hills area of the West Bank gather their belongings on Oct. 30, 2023, and prepare to leave their homes because of relentless settler violence. PHOTO BY MARCUS YAM/LOS ANGELES TIMES
As Gaza faces genocide, extremist settlers in the West Bank are running rampant. One Youth of Sumud activist says: “The Israeli settler militias benefit from this state of war, they are the ones who are ruling this area.”
The Israeli military committed a massacre of Palestinians in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza on Oct. 31. The aerial assault struck a densely populated area that an Israeli military spokesman admitted was crowded with civilians—killing more than 100 people, injuring hundreds more, and leaving many trapped underneath the rubble. Young and old. Men, women, and children.
The Israeli government has dropped thousands and thousands of bombs on Gaza over the last few weeks. The bombs don’t discriminate between a cancer patient or a futbol player — and they’ve murdered both orphans and women praying, until their end, that they would one day become mothers.
No one is safe in Gaza, no one is safe in all of Palestine.
That bombardment on Tuesday, which was part of at least two days of assaults on the camp, was so heavy—The Washington Post reported that the destruction spanned 50,000 square feet — that it created craters (including one about 40 feet in diameter) and Palestinians “tried to dig people out from smoldering piles of crumbled cement, rebar and wood” — that is, corpses which cannot be identified because of the intensity of the bombing. Al Jazeera reported that 19 family members of one of its engineers were killed in the attack. In questioning an Israeli military spokesperson, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer was practically left speechless by the cruel rationale they offered.
No one is safe in Gaza, no one is safe in all of Palestine.
Resident of Masafer Yatta, and the author’s uncle, Ziad Makhamra, walks the road between Jinba and Bir Il-‘Id in 2019.PHOTO BY EMMA ALPERT
And this did not begin on Oct. 7, 2023. While the Israeli military is carrying out genocide in Gaza, it is also continuing to deploy its twin weapon of ethnic cleansing, a process that began in 1948 and has only accelerated since then.
Bearing witness to acts of genocide carries certain responsibilities, as does bearing witness to acts of ethnic cleansing. One requires that you not look away, despite the horrors. The other requires you to keep looking — and look deeper — for as long as it takes, because the careful work of ethnic cleansing isn’t always so obvious. It is carried out through laws, bureaucratic as well as physical obstacles meant to keep people from their homes, and sustained violence and dehumanization over a long period of time. Both are part of the Israeli settler colonial project in Palestine, facilitated in full force by the United States government, military and mainstream media.
Only 40 miles from Gaza, in the Masafer Yatta area of the West Bank, you can hear and see war planes flying to bombard our people. But with all eyes on Gaza, Israeli settlers in Masafer Yatta and other parts of the West Bank are taking advantage of this moment to intensify their violent attacks on Palestinian communities.
One requires that you not look away, despite the horrors. The other requires you to keep looking—and look deeper—for as long as it takes, because the careful work of ethnic cleansing isn’t always so obvious.
Last year was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2005. So far, since Oct. 7, at least 144 Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed, including dozens of children. Another 2,200 have been injured and some 1,000 forcibly displaced.
My maternal lineage traces back generations in Masafer Yatta, to the village of Jinba, which was once a hub for merchants and trade and served as a pit-stop for pilgrims crossing from Africa to the Arabian peninsula during the Ottoman Empire. Masafer Yatta lies in the South Hebron Hills, on the edge of the al-Naqab desert. The large rolling hills have been home to communities of shepherds and farmers for generations, which used to be full of life and interconnected with the nearby city of Yatta. Now the area largely lacks basic infrastructure and has been left isolated from neighboring areas as it is difficult to reach and full of violent threats from extremist settlers and soldiers.
Over the last few decades, the settler project has only grown exponentially in numbers (in 2017 it was reported that more than 330,000 settlers had moved in to the West Bank in the previous 30 years) and the area has become increasingly violent and dangerous for Palestinians, fueled by settler organizations like Regavim, who operate under the guise of charitable organizations.
Since the Nakba in 1948, the primary form of resistance for the Palestinians of Masafer Yatta has been asserting — and reasserting — their agency and their relationship to the land. When Israeli settlers demolish the homes of my family and our neighbors, with the full backing of the military, we persistently return, rebuild and remain a thorn in the ultra-Zionist settlers’ plan. My family’s history in the area is a proud one interconnected with other villages and families, a community that has only grown stronger over the past few decades as they continue to fight the settler colonial apparatus determined to disappear them.
The primary form of resistance for the Palestinians of Masafer Yatta has been asserting — and reasserting — their agency and their relationship to the land.
In the late 1970s, the State of Israel established a military firing zone that encompassed 12 of the villages of Masafer Yatta, including Jinba. Shortly after we saw settlements like Carmel developed in the South Hebron Hills. In the decades to follow, my community and our neighbors experienced frequent demolitions of our homes and entire villages, denial of building permits, harassment and violent attacks from nearby settlements, and, on the most basic level, a complete degradation of essential infrastructure. Residents of Masafer Yatta came together to create and maintain their own informal, community systems to provide water, education, roads, and healthcare in the absence of any governmental support.