The European Union on Tuesday condemned a ruling from Israel’s top court last week approving the eviction of over 1,000 Palestinians to make way for a military training zone.
“Settlement expansion, demolitions and evictions are illegal under international law,” a spokesperson for the bloc said in a statement. “The EU condemns such possible plans and urges Israel to cease demolitions and evictions, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian and international human rights law.”
The statement said that “the establishment of a firing zone cannot be considered an ‘imperative military reason’ to transfer the population under occupation.”
The EU’s statement followed similar condemnation by Jordan last week.
The case of Masafer Yatta — or Firing Zone 918 — an agriculture area near Hebron in the West Bank, has been one of Israel’s longest-running legal battles.
The lives of thousands of Palestinians in a cluster of Bedouin communities in the southern West Bank have been on hold for more than four decades, ever since the land they cultivated and lived on was declared a military firing and training zone by Israel.
Since that decision in early 1981, residents of the Masafer Yatta region have weathered demolitions, property seizures, restrictions, disruptions of food and water supplies, as well as the lingering threat of expulsion.
That threat grew significantly after Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a long-standing expulsion order against eight of the 12 Palestinian hamlets forming Masafer Yatta — potentially leaving at least 1,000 people homeless.
Israel has argued that the residents only use the area for seasonal agriculture and that they had already rejected offers of compromise that would have given them occasional access to the land.
The Palestinians say that if implemented, the ruling opens the way for the eviction of all the 12 communities that have a population of 4,000 people, mostly Bedouins who rely on animal herding and a traditional form of desert agriculture.
The West Bank has been under Israeli military rule for nearly 55 years. Masafer Yatta is in the 60 percent of the territory where the Palestinian Authority is prohibited from operating. The Palestinians want the West Bank to form the main part of their future state.
Jewish settlers have established outposts in the area that are not officially authorized by Israel but are protected by the military. Last fall, dozens of settlers attacked a village in the area, and a four-year-old boy was hospitalized after being struck in the head with a stone.
Also on Tuesaday, Israeli authorities demolished a residential building in predominantly-Palestinian East Jerusalem, leaving 35 people, the majority of them children, homeless.
The demolition of the three-story building in the neighborhood of Silwan was carried out because the owners lacked the required permits, authorities said.
Israel regularly razes homes built by Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank if they lack the relevant construction permits.
“Municipality personnel came at 9 a.m., broke the doors, expelled us and didn’t let us take any belongings,” said Faris Rajabi, 35, who lived in the building.
Palestinian youths looked on in the presence of Israeli forces as heavy machinery was used to tear down the structure, an AFP photographer reported from the scene.
Rajabi said his family had gone to great lengths and paid over $100,000 in fines and fees in order to settle the issue in the courts.
The building included five apartments and housed 35 members of the Rajabi family, Faris Rajabi told AFP.
Silwan, adjacent to Jerusalem’s Old City, is the site of a campaign by Jewish settler groups to expand Israeli presence there. Palestinians have decried the influx of settlers, accusing them of seeking to push them out of their own neighborhood.
The demolition was “political, not legal,” said Rajabi, adding that “they anyway don’t give us permits, and this is a policy of dispossession and ethnic cleansing.”
The Palestinian Red Cross said five Palestinians, including a journalist, were beaten by police at the site of the demolition, adding one was hospitalized.
Nearly 40 structures have been razed in East Jerusalem this year, displacing about 100 people, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs.
Some owners prefer to raze their homes themselves to avoid being charged thousands of shekels for the demolition by the city’s demolition crews.