Israel’s top court has given the army the green light to forcibly evict more than 1,000 inhabitants of eight Palestinian hamlets in the southern part of the occupied West Bank, in one of the single biggest expulsion decisions since the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories began in 1967.
The high court decision, issued overnight on Wednesday, alleged that the Palestinian dwellers of Masafer Yatta rural area, who have kept a distinct generations-long nomadic way of life and are making a living from farming and herding, had not been permanent residents of the region when the Israeli military first declared it a firing zone in the 1980s.
Israeli officials claim that the Masafer Yatta villagers have no rights to the land, designated as Firing Zone 918, since it is to be used for military exercises, in which the presence of civilians is prohibited.
According to the Geneva conventions pertaining to humanitarian treatment in war, it is, however, illegal to expropriate occupied land for purposes that do not benefit the people living there, or to forcibly transfer the local population.
Masafer Yatta residents and Israeli rights groups say that many of the Palestinian families have been permanently residing in the 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) area since before Israel captured the West Bank, in the 1967 Middle East War, and that their eviction would constitute a breach of international law.
“This proves that this court is part of the occupation,” Masafer Yatta mayor, Nidal Abu Younis, said.
“We are not going to leave our homes. We will stay here,” he noted.
The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem also slammed the court ruling as being intended to forcibly transfer hundreds of Palestinians from their homes and destroy their communities.
The court decision for eviction of more than 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank area is “for the clear purpose of taking over their lands in the service of Jewish interests,” it said.
“The justices have thus proved once again that the occupied cannot expect justice from the occupier's court,” B’Tselem added.
“The decision, weaving baseless legal interpretation with decontextualized facts, makes it clear that there is no crime which the high court justices will not find a way to legitimize," it added.
It said that by employing sugarcoated language, hypocrisy, and lies, the justices once paved the way for the crime of forcible transfer to be committed, while reversing reality as the "ruling cast Palestinian victims as the “unlawful” offenders, while portraying the apartheid regime as the victim."
It urged the international community to prevent Israel from forcibly transferring the communities and make sure, should this crime be committed, that those responsible for it – including the military top echelons, and the supreme court justices – will be held accountable.
Additionally, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), who along with Masafer Yatta residents petitioned against the expulsion, warned the verdict would have “unprecedented consequences.”
“The High Court has officially authorized leaving entire families, with their children and their elderly, without a roof over their heads,” ACRI said in a statement.