Information received on the situation of Palestinian human rights defenders in Masafer Yatta

I am concerned by information I have received indicating that, in addition to continuing Israeli Security Forces operations aimed at the forced eviction and transfer of Palestinian residents of villages in the Masafer Yatta region of southern Hebron, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israeli settler attacks on the area’s Palestinian human rights defenders have been insufficiently investigated, compounding a climate of impunity for human rights violations.

While the Israeli Security Forces have been responsible for the demolitions of schools and homes, enabled by the May 2022 ruling of the Israeli High Court of Justice rejecting appeals against eviction orders for the Palestinian residents of Masafer Yatta, designated as a military training site, Israeli settlers in illegal outposts nearby have for years been carrying out violent assaults on Palestinian human rights defenders (HRDs) in the area. They have rarely been prosecuted or convicted.[1]

I have heard reports that Israeli settler attacks against Palestinian HRDs working to protect the rights of Palestinian children as well as Palestinian land and property have been repeated again and again, and with almost complete impunity.

The most recent such incident I heard about occurred in September 2022 when armed settlers from the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on, including one carrying a high-calibre rifle, threatened members of the family of HRD Sami Hureini while they were working their land outside At-Tuwani village near Masafer Yatta. Sami’s father, Hafez Hureini, was reportedly hit with a metal pipe in a confrontation with the settlers, resulting in injuries to both his arms that required him to undergo surgery twice, was subsequently arrested and held in military detention for ten days before being released on bail, pending further investigation by the Israeli military authorities into injuries he allegedly inflicted on one of the attacking settlers, and two of the settlers were interrogated and released unconditionally. 

I have heard that instead of protecting and enabling Palestinian farmers to work their land free from settler violence, Israeli military forces have declared the Hureini property a closed military area, preventing them from watering and harvesting their crops. According to the family the declarations of closed military areas have been inconsistent, leaving them always under threat of a new military order.

I am also concerned to hear about the ongoing prosecution of Sami Hureini, in direct retaliation for his human rights work, and the attacks against him by Israeli settlers that date back more than a year and in which he, the victim of the assault, was accused of attacking an Israeli solider.

A member of the Youth of Sumud organisation (YoS), Hureini documents incidents of violence by Israeli settlers in nearby outposts illegal under international law. He and other members of his family have engaged in accompanying school children to protect them from Israeli settler violence while on their way to school in At-Tuwani, and in rehabilitating traditional cave dwellings damaged by Israeli settler attacks. YoS is an activist group in the South Hebron Hills and supported in part by Human Rights Defenders Fund, a non-governmental organisation registered in Israel.

Hureini was arrested in January 2021 from his home at night, and detained for four days before being released on bail. He was charged and is undergoing trial in the Ofer Military Court for allegedly assaulting a soldier and entering a closed military zone.

I have received reports that his arrest came a day after he participated in a peaceful demonstration in protest at a shooting a week earlier of a Palestinian resident in the region, and that while a requirement for him to report to a police station in Kiryat Arba every Friday from 08:00 to 15:00 was lifted in March 2021, an order barring him from participating in any protest demonstration or political activity still holds.

I and other mandate holders wrote to the Israeli government at the time, expressing concern over the criminalisation of Mr. Hureini’s legitimate work in promoting and defending human rights in his region. [2]

The information I have received indicates that Mr. Hurieni was arrested again in June 2022 at a military checkpoint in Masafer Yatta and held for eight hours, his car impounded for three weeks and released only when he paid a $2,000 fee, and that he is barred from driving into the Masafer Yatta military trial zone. The village where he lives, At-Tuwani, lies adjacent to Masafer Yatta.

I am dismayed to hear that the Israeli military continues to detain human rights defenders and confiscate their documents or vehicles, on grounds that they have entered a closed military site.

I strongly urge the Israeli government to respect the right of Palestinians to protect and promote human rights as guaranteed in the UN Declaration on human rights defenders, including members of the Hureini family.




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