Israel’s high court has ruled that about 1,000 Palestinians can be evicted from an area in the West Bank, bringing a two-decade long legal dispute and marking one of the largest single expulsion decisions since the Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967.
The disputed area, part of Masafer Yatta in the south Hebron hills, was home to several small Palestinian villages when it was designated for military use by the Israeli state in the 1980s. Israel had argued that those living in the area were not permanent residents when the designation was made and therefore have no legal claim to live on the land.
Despite a wealth of evidence being presented demonstrating that Masafer Yatta had been inhabited for decades, the court ruled in favor of the state’s argument that the nomad-like lifestyle lived by those inhabiting the area did not constitute permanent residency.
The judges additionally rejected the argument that the “prohibition of forcible transfer set forth in international law is customary and binding”, saying that it was a “treaty norm” and not enforceable in a domestic court.
“This proves that this court is part of the occupation,” said Nidal Abu Younis, Masafer Yatta mayor. “We are not going to leave our homes. We will stay here,” he added.
Since the court’s decision was unanimous it is unclear whether there is any further avenue of appeal for the residents of the eight affected Masafer Yatta villages. The ruling did not specifically order evictions, but means that Israel can proceed to forcibly remove the villagers should the choose to do so.
The court urged compromise, saying that it was still possible for an agreement to be reached to use parts of the land for agricultural purposes.