Israel’s High Court ordered army bulldozers to temporarily halt the demolition of Palestinian homes in a military firing zone after a number of homes were razed Tuesday morning.
Israeli forces began destroying dozens of structures Tuesday morning in two Palestinian villages south of Hebron, after the buildings were declared illegal by the body that oversees civilian Israeli activities in the territories.
The High Court ordered a stop to the demolitions until at least February 9 and required the state to respond by that date.
Before the court’s stay was ordered, soldiers destroyed 24 structures in and around the village of Khirbet Jenbah south of Hebron, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel said.
Forces arrived at around 7 a.m. and carried out the demolitions, leaving 12 families temporarily homeless, Nidal Younes, head of a local village council, told AFP.
“In total it is around 80 people,” he said.
Approximately 40 buildings had been marked for demolition in the village and neighboring hamlet Khirbat el-Halawa, according to the B’tselem organization.
The Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories confirmed the demolitions and said they came after a drawn-out arbitration over the fate of the buildings yielded no results.
“The buildings being demolished in Firing Zone 918 were illegally constructed,” COGAT said in a statement. “During the last two years, the [Defense Ministry] Civil Administration has been conducting a dialogue process with the population in order to legalize the structures. When the building owners showed no willingness to get the situation in order and illegal construction did not stop, measures were taken in accordance with the law.”
Firing Zone 918 encompasses approximately 115 square miles and was declared a restricted military zone in the 1970s.
In 1999 evacuation orders were issued to inhabitants of the villages in the area, sparking a long legal battle.
The petition against the demolitions was presented by The Society of St. Yves, a Catholic human rights NGO based in Israel. According to a statement on the group’s Facebook page, the structures marked for demolition were funded by the European Union.
An EU spokesperson in East Jerusalem confirmed that 10 buildings out of those demolished were EU funded and criticized the decision to raze the structures.
Army veterans group Breaking the Silence, which says it exposes IDF wrongdoing in the territories, called the move the “largest demolition order” in over a decade.
The Defense Ministry has declared that the structures do not have the appropriate permits.
The Supreme Court ruled in May that the Civil Administration had the right to demolish Palestinian homes in the area because they had been built without permission.
Human rights groups have repeatedly challenged Israel’s claim to the land, arguing it is illegal to establish a military zone in occupied territory, Sarit Michaeli from B’Tselem told AFP.
The families, many of whom are cave dwellers, argue their ancestors have lived on the land since long before Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967.
In total, more than 1,000 people could be affected, Michaeli explained, as there are around 10 other villages that could face similar action.
In a letter sent to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon Tuesday morning, Knesset Member Dov Khenin of the Joint (Arab) List called for the demolitions to be stopped, saying they would leave people homeless in the middle of the cold winter months.
“The decision came without prior warning, in a sudden and extreme move that will leave many families without a roof over their heads during the winter,” Khenin wrote.