The Defense Ministry has petitioned the High Court to remove Palestinian structures from an area south of Hebron that the IDF uses as a firing range.

According to a report by AFP, the court demanded an explanation from the IDF after demolition orders were issued against buildings constructed in an area used for military exercises.

The buildings reportedly make up eight small West Bank villages whose residents and shepherds farm the land used by the IDF as firing ranges.

The IDF claimed the structures defy orders banning civilians from the area while exercises are in progress.

In its response, the Defense Ministry wrote that farmers will be given access to the land when there are no exercises taking place, usually on weekends or during Jewish holidays. In addition, the ministry said it was willing to negotiate access for a further two months during the year.

However, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel is working with local Palestinians to stop the demolition of what they contend are established villages. The residents of the villages of Majaz, Tabban, Sfai, Fakheit, Halaweh, Mirkez, Jinba, and Kharuba claim that they worked the land for many years before 1967 when Israel captured the West Bank from Jordanian forces.

“Most of them were born and raised in these villages in families that have been living in the area for several decades — long before 1967,” ACRI wrote, according to AFP. ACRI added that the demolition was likely to cause “an immediate humanitarian disaster for almost 2,000 souls, the destruction of villages, and the eradication of a remarkable way of life that has endured for centuries.”

The Hebrew daily Haaretz claimed that three collaborators informed Israeli authorities that most of the residents under threat have permanent homes in the nearby village of Yatta. The IDF wants to move the residents to Yatta and clear the land for exercises.

The army exercise grounds are in area C, under full Israeli control, and cover about 7,500 acres of land known as Firing Zone 918, The New York Times reported.

According to The New York Times, Palestinian advocates claim the demolitions are part of a government drive to tighten Israel’s grip on Area C, which is home to 350,000 Israelis and about 50,000 Palestinians and comprises 61% of the West Bank.

The dispute over the land has been ongoing since 1999 when the IDF removed about 700 residents and destroyed buildings and wells, the newspaper said.