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IDF tears down illegally built Palestinian school in disputed W. Bank ‘firing zone’

Action follows Supreme Court ruling in May, in favor of the state’s claim that Palestinians in Masafer Yatta did not predate firing zone, capping decades of legal battles

Palestinians stand on the remains of a school after it was demolished by the IDF in the West Bank area known as Masafer Yatta, on November 23, 2022. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Illean)
Palestinians stand on the remains of a school after it was demolished by the IDF in the West Bank area known as Masafer Yatta, on November 23, 2022. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Illean)

The Israeli military demolished a Palestinian school in the West Bank on Wednesday, an Israeli rights group said, following a court ruling earlier this year that upheld a long-standing expulsion order against eight Palestinian hamlets in the area.

The B’Tselem rights group said schoolchildren were inside the classrooms as soldiers arrived ahead of the demolition. Video provided by the group showed a bulldozer tearing down the one-floor structure as soldiers stood guard nearby.

COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for administrative affairs in the West Bank, said it demolished a building built illegally in an area designated as a closed firing zone.

The Supreme Court in May ruled against families in the area, known as Masafer Yatta, paving the way for the potential displacement of at least 1,000 people. Rights groups say Israel has been carrying out a gradual demolition of the structures in the area since the ruling, with the school the latest to be torn down.

In 1979, the army expropriated some 30 square kilometers (11.5 square miles) of land and declared it Firing Zone 918. Since then, the Israeli military has sought to evict Palestinians living in eight villages that lie inside the firing zone, most of them collections of low-slung homes with makeshift roofs.

Local Palestinians argued that their presence predates the firing zone, meaning that they cannot be expelled under Israeli law. Israeli authorities contested the Palestinians’ argument and government attorneys presented satellite photos that they claim show no residential structures on the hilltops before the 1990s.

In its ruling in May, the Supreme Court sided with the state and said the villagers had rejected a compromise that would have allowed them to enter the area at certain times and practice agriculture for part of the year.

The families say they have been there for decades. They practice a traditional form of desert agriculture and animal herding, with some living in caves at least part of the year, and say their only homes in the hardscrabble communities are now at risk of demolition.

Masafer Yatta is located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control, and where the Palestinian Authority is prohibited from operating.

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