Israeli military bulldozers destroyed homes in the South Hebron Hills earlier this week. But villagers also won a victory on Wednesday, as the Israeli High Court ruled that the state should not evict the residents to make way for military training in the area (Photo: International Solidarity Movement)
Palestinian villagers in the South Hebron Hills living under the threat of forcible expulsion by the Israeli army won a temporary victory on Wednesday, as the Israeli High Court ruled that the state could not evict the residents to make way for military training in the area.
The Israeli High Court ruling came in response to a petition filed by the Association of Civil Rights (ACRI) in Israel. Israeli High Court Justice Salim Joubran also said that the Israeli state had 60 days to respond to the ACRI petition.
According to an ACRI statement, the petition “asks the defense minister and the commander of Israel Defense Forces activities in the West Bank to explain why the forced transfer of the villagers from their homes cannot be prevented, as well as for an explanation as to why the closed military zone order around the area should not be lifted and their dwellings fully recognized.”
Israel says that it needs to expel Palestinians living in eight villages in the South Hebron Hills because it needs the area for military training. The area the villages reside in has been designated as a “firing zone” by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The ACRI action was taken in response to Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s July 2012 decision to move forward with longstanding but delayed plans to expel Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills, which is located in Area C of the West Bank.
Villages in the South Hebron Hills have a population of about 1,300. “The villagers maintain a unique way of life, with many living in or beside caves, and relying on farming and husbandry of sheep and goats for their livelihood,” ACRI notes.
“It is inconceivable that 1,000 people should be evicted for the sake of military exercises. These evictions, which are tantamount to forced displacement, deny the villagers their livelihood and seize the property of people whose very existence depends upon the land they cultivate,” said Tamar Feldman, an attorney with ACRI who filed the petition against the forced expulsion, in a statement.
ACRI has more background on the legal situation for these Palestinian villages:
In August and November 1999 the majority of the inhabitants of the twelve hamlets were served with immediate evacuation orders due to their “illegal dwelling in a fire zone”. In late 1999, security forces arrived and evacuated over 700 residents by force. The IDF destroyed homes and cisterns and confiscated property. The villagers, dispossessed of their lands and their livelihoods, were left homeless.
In an affidavit taken by ACRI, Petitioner Number 10, Badwi Mohammed Gabar Dababsa recalled how one night, around midnight, IDF soldiers came and forcibly removed everyone in his village of Halat a-Dab’a. They were loaded onto trucks and left in the area of a-Twana. He himself fled the village on foot and spent three days in the hills. When he returned to his village, he found complete devastation. Trees had been uprooted, tents torn down, pens demolished and the flocks had escaped. The inside of the caves that served as homes for the villagers had been ransacked, and all belongings and furniture broken. The event traumatized the family, who also had to deal with the severe financial losses.
Following these evictions, two petitions were filed at the High Court by ACRI and by Attorney Shlomo Lecker. In 2000, the court issued an interim injunction. Mediation between the state and the villagers failed in 2005; and the case essentially lay dormant until last year. High Court Justice Uzi Fogelman decided to hold a preliminary hearing on the petitions regarding the 12 Palestinian villages, and the State announced in July 2012 that residents of four of the 12 villages will be able to continue to live in the area. The State agreed to withhold use of live ammunition for training in the areas around these villages. The Defense Ministry, however, insists that it is necessary to evacuate the other eight villages and displace hundreds of residents. In August, the court dismissed the petitions, but left in place the interim order allowing the residents to continue to live in the area and cultivate their land and allowed the petitioners to submit a new petition.
Yesterday, Amira Hass provided more details on the case for Haaretz. She reported that lawyers attached an opinion to the ACRI petition arguing that “the expulsion of Palestinian residents from an army live-fire zone in the West Bank would enable the Palestinians to address the International Criminal Court.” More from Hass:
That petition includes a legal opinion by Prof. Eyal Benvenisti, Yuval Shany and David Kremcher, who argue that the Geneva Conventions’ prohibition on the forcible transfer of protected populations from occupied territory has become customary law, meaning it binds even countries that aren’t signatories to the conventions. As such, it supersedes the military commander’s orders.
Benvenisti, Shany and Kremcher also noted that this prohibition is one over which the ICC’s founding treaty explicitly grants it jurisdiction.
“The prohibition is absolute, without exceptions, and isn’t dependent on permanent residency,” the three wrote. “The absoluteness of this prohibition derives from the dark history of World War II, in which deportations were widespread for various reasons.”
While Palestinian villagers in the the area won a temporary reprieve from whole scale eviction, the Israeli military continues to make life difficult for them in other ways. Activists from the International Solidarity movement reported yesterday that “Israeli military bulldozers destroyed four homes in a morning of mayhem in the South Hebron Hills. The demolitions were carried out by plain clothed officers accompanied by 15 Border Police and two bulldozers.”