Palestinians vow to remain in West Bank lands despite defeat in years-long legal battle

“We will all resist and stay on our lands, we have nowhere to go,” Masafer Yatta Council leader Nidal Abu Younis told CNN on Friday.

“Israel seeks through these attempts to separate the villages in the mountains of Hebron from the northern Negev in the occupied lands and sever family ties,” Abu Younis said.

On Wednesday, Israel’s High Court ruled against Palestinian villagers, accepting the Israeli state’s claim that residents began sitting in the area after the military declared it a shelling zone in 1981.

The court decision legally paves the way for the eviction of about 1,000 Palestinians from eight villages on the outskirts of the city of Hebron.

The United Nations, the European Union and Israeli human rights groups criticized Thursday’s ruling.

Lynn Hastings, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said Palestinian petitioners who have exhausted domestic remedies are now “unprotected and at risk of imminent displacement.”

She called on Israel to “stop demolitions and evictions in the occupied Palestinian territories, in accordance with its obligations under international law.”

The European Union said that the removal of Palestinians would amount to “forced displacement from their homes and destruction of their communities”, which it said is prohibited by international law.

“As an occupying power, Israel has an obligation to protect the Palestinian population, not to push them out,” the European bloc said.

And the Israel Civil Rights Association, which represented Palestinian residents in court, accused the court of approving a move that would “leave families, children and the elderly homeless.” It said the decision was “unusual and will have serious consequences”.

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians are high after a series of violent incidents in recent weeks. Dozens of people have died in terrorist attacks in Israel and the West Bank since March 22.
Israeli soldiers take part in a military exercise at Masafer Yatta near Hebron on February 2, 2021.

aerial photography

The eviction of Palestinian residents will separate Hebron from other villages on the southern outskirts of the city.

High Court Judges David Mintz, Ofer Grosskopf and Isaac Amit Wednesday not only dismissed claims by Palestinians that they lived in the area prior to 1981, but ordered each of them to pay 20,000 shekels ($5,900) in reimbursement .

“We have never believed that Israeli courts are administering justice. This decision did not come as a surprise to any of us,” said the head of the council, Abu Younis.

“We, the Masafer families, have documents confirming our ownership of our land,” he insisted.

The Supreme Court rejected this claim.

The Masafer Yatta families presented aerial footage as evidence that the villages had existed in the area for 45 years. But Israel claimed that Palestinian residents began settling in the area after it was declared a 918 target, and that until then it had only been used as seasonal pasture for their livestock.

Judge Mintz said in the court’s verdict that the question of whether the area was a place of permanent residence is “not difficult at all,” since aerial photographs of the area prior to 1980 show no evidence of the presence of a residential building there. Mintz also noted that the area was used by the air force to conduct simulated airstrikes in the 1990s.

The Court rejected the contention that making the area a closed military zone was contrary to international law and stated that when international law conflicted with Israeli law, the latter prevailed.

Palestinians have claimed that they and their families have lived in these villages, whose houses are built in natural caves, since before the founding of Israel in 1948.

Although the Israeli military declared the area a shelling zone in 1981, according to a High Court ruling, the residents remained relatively quiet until the late 1990s.

But in 1999, the military and civil administration evicted more than 700 residents.

The military reduced the size of the proposed shelling area in April 2012, after which Israel demanded the demolition of eight villages instead of 12.

The High Court then asked the Palestinians to withdraw their claim, but two more motions were filed in 2013. The court rejected them.

In its ruling, the High Court agreed with the military’s position that the land was necessary for their needs.

Abu Younis said on Friday that the villagers will continue to resist despite the legal defeat.

“The soldiers evacuated the residents of the villages by trucks to other areas [in 1999]but the inhabitants returned the same night against the will of the occupiers,” he said, referring to Israel. “The same thing will happen if this court decision becomes a reality.”

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