81 members of Congress say US must stop Israeli eviction of Hebron Hills' Palestinians

The court said that the Palestinians had failed to make their case that they had lived there prior to its declaration as a firing zone.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Vice President Mike Pence take part in a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 election results on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, January 6, 2021. (photo credit: ERIN SCHAFF/POOL VIA REUTERS)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Vice President Mike Pence take part in a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 election results on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, January 6, 2021.
(photo credit: ERIN SCHAFF/POOL VIA REUTERS)

A group of 81 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to “immediately engage with the Israeli government on the potential evictions of more than 1,000 Palestinians from their homes in Masafer Yatta in the West Bank.”

The bicameral letter was led by New Mexico Rep. Melanie Stansbury and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley.

“We write with urgent concern over the decision by Israel’s High Court to allow the military to evict approximately 1,000 Palestinian people from their homes in the Masafer Yatta region of the occupied West Bank,” they wrote on Thursday.

They spoke out after the High Court of Justice ruled earlier this month that Palestinians living in some eight to 11 herding villages of modular homes, such as huts and tents, could be evicted because they were located in an IDF firing zone.

The court said the Palestinians had failed to make their case that they had lived there prior to its declaration as a firing zone.

 SOLDIERS ON patrol in the Hebron Hills area.  (credit: WISAM HASHLAMOUN/FLASH90) SOLDIERS ON patrol in the Hebron Hills area. (credit: WISAM HASHLAMOUN/FLASH90)

The members of Congress who signed the letter sided with the Palestinian claim that their presence there predated the creation of what is known as Firing Zone 918 in the South Hebron Hills.

“We are deeply concerned that this relocation of Palestinian families from homes they have lived in for generations could spark violence, is in direct violation of international humanitarian law, and could further undermine efforts to reach a two-state solution,” they continued. “As supporters of a strong US-Israel relationship, we believe such evictions undermine our shared democratic values, imperil Israel’s security, and disregard Palestinian human and civil rights.”

They also wrote that they were deeply concerned about what may happen if these evictions occurred. “Evicting Palestinian people from their homes is inconsistent with international humanitarian law, according to Articles 49 and 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and inconsistent with efforts to reach a two-state solution,” the members of Congress wrote.

“We respectfully request that you immediately engage with the Israeli government to prevent these evictions and further military training exercises in the area. We further ask that you encourage the Israeli government to approve master plans for the villages in Masafer Yatta, so that these Palestinian communities may build and maintain homes and schools, infrastructure and sustain their agricultural and pastoral lands. With President [Joe] Biden visiting Israel in late June, it is critical that the Administration respond quickly to ensure that this momentous trip can deliver concrete steps toward peace.”

"As supporters of a strong US-Israel relationship, we believe such evictions undermine our shared democratic values, imperil Israel's security, and disregard Palestinian human and civil rights."

Letter from several Democratic members of Congress

Reactions

The progressive group J Street issued a statement applauding the letter.

“With this letter, members of Congress are making clear to the administration that the deteriorating situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory requires urgent attention – and that deeply harmful acts of displacement and de facto annexation must be confronted,” said its director of Government Affairs, Hannah Morris. “As the president prepares to travel to the region in June, lawmakers are strongly encouraging him to defend the rights and long-term interests of both Palestinians and Israelis.”

At the UN Security Council on Thursday, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that the Biden administration had voiced its concern about this issue, as she urged Israel not to evict the Palestinians.

‘It is important to refrain from unilateral actions that exacerbate tensions and jeopardize a negotiated two-state solution,” she said. “This includes the situation in Masafer Yatta and other evictions, which we continue to monitor closely and voice our concerns about.”