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EU envoy calls for ‘international pressure’ to halt evictions of Palestinians

European Union’s ambassador to the Palestinians claims High Court ruling allowing evictions from Masafer Yatta is ‘a political one, not a legal one’

A Palestinian demonstrator blocks the road in front of Israeli soldiers in the Masafer Yatta area in the West Bank, which has been at the center of a protracted legal battle, July 1, 2022. (Mosab Shawer/AFP)
A Palestinian demonstrator blocks the road in front of Israeli soldiers in the Masafer Yatta area in the West Bank, which has been at the center of a protracted legal battle, July 1, 2022. (Mosab Shawer/AFP)

An EU envoy warned Thursday over the possible mass displacement of Palestinians from a West Bank area at the center of a protracted legal battle, after a controversial Israeli court ruling.

The European Union’s ambassador to the Palestinians, Sven Kuehn von Burgsdorff, issued the warning as he toured Masafer Yatta in the West Bank, where evictions of Palestinians have increased after they lost a land rights case in Israel’s top court on May 4.

“If mass evictions and forcible transfer were to be the case, that would be the biggest forcible transfer for decades — that’s our concern here,” he told AFP.

Israel’s High Court ruled that the more than 1,000 residents of the villages of Masafer Yatta had “failed to prove” their claim of permanent residence in the area before the army declared it a restricted military site known as “Firing Zone 918.”

The judgment ended a two-decade legal struggle, paving the way for the Palestinians to be evicted from their homes.

Von Burgsdorff told AFP that there has been a dramatic rise in demolitions since the ruling.

EU representative to the Palestinians Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff during a visit to the controversial Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem, November 16, 2020. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Twenty-seven buildings have been knocked down since the judgment, and at least 30 more demolition orders have been issued — more than double the rate in recent years, an EU source said.

In the early 1980s, the army declared the 3,000-hectare (30 square kilometers) territory a restricted military area and claimed it was uninhabited.

The Palestinians living there said it was their people’s home long before Israeli soldiers set foot in the West Bank, which the IDF has largely controlled since 1967. The Israeli army argues the firing zone is essential for military training due to its “distinctive geographic features.”

Von Burgsdorff accused Israel’s top judges of disregarding international law in a ruling that, he said, “seems to ignore” Israel’s responsibilities to the Palestinian residents as “an occupying power.”

“Families have lost their homes, but this decision is a political one, not a legal one at all,” he told AFP. “International pressure is the only way to stop this,” he added.

The diplomatic visit had been delayed by two days after the army decided to hold a live-fire exercise in the area.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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