Masafer Yatta is a desert region of the southern West Bank that is home to 1,144 Palestinians living across 12 villages. Their lives changed drastically in the 1980s when the land on which their homes are built was declared to be a ‘closed military zone’ by the Israeli authorities.On 4 May 2022, the Israeli Supreme Court declared that there were no ‘legal barriers’ to the evictions.As a result of the decision, 211 Palestinian households (1144 people) are at immediate risk of forced evictions, arbitrary displacement, and forcible transfer.The decision of the Israeli Supreme Court in May 2022 has resulted in a sharp uptick in hostile measures applied by the Israeli authorities in Masafer Yatta to put extraordinary pressure on residents of Masafer Yatta to leave their homes. Such measures include the demolition of homes and schools, issuance of eviction notices and an increase in checkpoints, confiscation of residents’ vehicles, military training, night-time home incursions, enforced curfews, and other movement restrictions, making people’s lives unbearable. Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders (MSF) is providing medical health services via mobile clinics to the residents of Masafer Yatta since 2021, and mental health care in the Hebron Governorate since 1996. MSF’s witnessed first-hand the impact of the increasingly coercive and oppressive environment on the physical and mental health of the people in Masafer Yatta. © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF

Palestine : MSF report reveals Israel’s coercive measures undermine people’s health in Masafer Yatta

Living in constant fear of eviction, seeing their homes demolished and having their movements restricted are some of the challenges faced by Palestinians in and around Masafer Yatta, in the southern West Bank of Palestine.

In its new report The unbearable life: the health impacts of the Israeli measures to forcibly evict the residents of Masafer Yatta, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) sheds light on the extraordinary pressure applied by Israeli authorities to push local communities to leave the area and the impact of this on people’s physical and mental health.

“If I lose my land, I lose my life,” said one resident of Al-Majaz village in Masafer Yatta, summarising how much is at stake for the affected communities.

As well as the threat of eviction from their homes, residents live under constant threat of violence. “Soldiers enter villages at night, enforce curfews and other movement restrictions, conduct military training near living areas, confiscate vehicles and demolish homes,” says David Cantero Pérez, MSF country director in Palestine. “They make life unbearable for residents.”

The measures by Israeli authorities have intensified since May 2022, following a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court that removed all legal barriers to the forced displacement of Palestinians from Masafer Yatta to make way for a military zone. This has had a severe impact on residents’ ability to access basic services, including medical care.

MSF’s report reveals that patients are routinely denied access to villages where MSF provides medical services if their identity card shows they are from a different village. In other instances, ambulances trying to reach Masafer Yatta are delayed or even blocked and residents trying to reach hospitals are stopped at the checkpoints and face long delays. As a result, many residents report that the uncertain access to medical care in Masafer Yatta has forced medically vulnerable people – including pregnant women in their final trimester, elderly people with chronic health conditions and people with serious illnesses – to leave their homes and families for nearby Yatta city.

Safa, a resident of Al- Markez gathering, Masafer Yatta. She says, “We were here when the demolition happened. My daughters were here and the little kids. They come suddenly. They do not give notice. We only see the bulldozers coming to our place and they demolish the tents.”©️ Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF

Coercive measures mean that residents live in constant fear for their safety and parents feel helpless to protect their children. One parent reported that their child had been woken in the night by an armed soldier and dog entering their bedroom. Other parents described their feelings of despair and powerlessness when their children returned from school to find the family home had been demolished.

Living under such challenging conditions is taking a huge toll on people’s mental health, says MSF, whose mobile teams have provided medical care, including mental healthcare, to residents of Masafer Yatta since 2021. MSF’s report highlights a sharp increase in demand for mental health support among residents who experienced home incursions and demolitions. Following these incidents, more than half of MSF patients in 2022 reported psychosomatic symptoms; one-quarter of patients showed post-traumatic symptoms; and two-thirds described having depressive symptoms.

Mahmud, a resident of Al- Markez gathering, Masafer Yatta. He says, “We got the first notices that our home was to be demolished in 2011. We appealed to the court through a lawyer, they did not demolish anything. One day in 2017, they came and demolished the house without warning.”©️ Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF

“Over the past year, we have witnessed at first hand the impact of the increasingly coercive environment on the physical and mental health of the people in Masafer Yatta,” says Cantero Pérez. “As a medical humanitarian organisation, we denounce the Israeli policies and call on Israeli authorities to bring an immediate halt to the eviction plan and to stop implementing measures that restrict access to basic services, including medical care, for Palestinians in Masafer Yatta. This unnecessary suffering must stop.”

Finally, MSF calls on the international community to take urgent and necessary measures to protect the population of Masafer Yatta and to ensure that their human rights are upheld.

MSF has provided medical and mental health services to the residents of Masafer Yatta via mobile clinics since 2021, and mental healthcare in Hebron governorate, which includes Masafer Yatta, since 1996. In this time, MSF teams have witnessed the impact of Israel’s coercive measures on every aspect of residents’ daily lives.