NEW YORK/JERUSALEM, APRIL 3, 2023—The combination of living in constant fear of eviction by Israeli authorities, seeing their homes demolished, and having their movements restricted is having a terrible impact on the physical and mental health of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to a new report by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Israeli authorities must immediately halt the eviction plan, and the international community must take urgent and necessary measures to protect people living in Masafer Yatta and ensure that their human rights are upheld, said MSF.
“Soldiers enter villages at night, enforce curfews and other movement restrictions, conduct military training near living areas, confiscate vehicles, and demolish homes,” said David Cantero Pérez, MSF head of mission for the Palestinian Territories. “They make life unbearable for residents.”
As MSF’s report—The unbearable life: the health impacts of the Israeli measures to forcibly evict the residents of Masafer Yatta—highlights, measures by Israeli authorities have intensified since May 2022, following a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court that removed all legal barriers to the eviction 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. There are currently 1,144 Palestinians living in 12 communities in Masafer Yatta, including 569 children.
Movement restrictions are directly impacting people’s ability to access physical and mental health care, including medically vulnerable people like pregnant people in their final trimester and elderly patients with chronic health conditions. For example, people are routinely denied access to villages where MSF provides medical services if their identity card shows they are from a different village. Ambulances trying to reach Masafer Yatta are often delayed or even blocked, and residents trying to reach hospitals are stopped at checkpoints and face long delays. Additionally, many MSF patients have reported that they have had their cars confiscated by the Israeli army.
Coercive measures like these mean that residents live in constant fear for their safety and that of their families. 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.
“If I lose my land, I lose my life,” said one resident of Al-Majaz village in Masafer Yatta, summarizing how much is at stake for those affected.
Living under challenging conditions like these is taking a huge toll on people’s mental health, shown by the sharp increase in demand for mental health services. For example, from May to October 2021, 3.8 percent of MSF’s mental health patients had their property demolished—a number that increased to 21.8 percent for the same period in 2022. Following home incursions and demolitions, more than half of the people MSF treated in 2022 reported psychosomatic symptoms; one-quarter showed post-traumatic symptoms; and two-thirds described having depressive symptoms.
“Over the past year, we have witnessed firsthand the impact of the increasingly coercive environment on the physical and mental health of the people in Masafer Yatta,” Pérez said. “This unnecessary suffering must stop. As a medical humanitarian organization, 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.”
MSF has provided care in Hebron governorate, which includes Masafer Yatta, since 1996. MSF currently runs three clinics—plus mobile clinics—in the Masafer Yatta area. In 2022, MSF provided 3,066 medical consultations.