Israel has been demolishing Palestinian structures in the area where human rights groups say around 1,000 people face the threat of the largest displacement in the occupied West Bank in decades.
Around 1,000 Palestinians are under imminent threat of eviction in an area known as Masafer Yatta in the southern occupied West Bank, according to human rights groups.
The area, also known as the South Hebron Hills, falls in “area C” of the West Bank, under Israel’s administrative and military jurisdiction. It was occupied by Israel along with East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
In the early 1980s, Israel designated the area as Firing Zone 918, paving the way for a prolonged legal battle that ended last May when the Israeli High Court announced its final ruling authorising the eviction of Palestinians by the military.
Earlier this week, locals and human rights groups reported that the Israeli authorities notified Palestinians that around 1,000 people, including many children, would receive eviction notices. The Israeli army proceeded to seize tents used as classrooms on Wednesday.
Two decades in limbo
In 1999, the military forcibly removed hundreds of Palestinians from their homes, but a court permit saw the inhabitants return to their lands until a final decision following initial petitions.
For two decades, the dispute dragged on without a final ruling while the Palestinian inhabitants of Masafer Yatta were denied building permits by the Israeli Civil Administration, in charge of Area C - which constitutes around 60 percent of the occupied West Bank.
The threat of demolitions, evictions, and displacement has been looming over eight villages that more than 1,200 Palestinians, including 500 children, call home.
Israel’s District Coordination and Liaison Office (DCO) told human rights group B’Tselem that residents have been offered relocation to an alternative location, but added that offer was “meaningless” as it left no choice to the residents.
Israel demolishes Palestinian homes, which it says lack construction permits, but Palestinians maintain these are nearly impossible to obtain.
In this context, Israel has been carrying out demolitions of homes, schools and other buildings belonging to Palestinians, who are also denied access to basic utilities like power, water, roads, healthcare facilities and other amenities.
All that comes in addition to frequent acts of violence from Israeli settlers in the area, as the illegal settlements are free of such issues.
Human rights groups have been arguing that the expulsion of a population from its land and the use of occupied land for military training are also in violation of international law.
May’s court ruling was based on the argument that Palestinians were not permanent residents of Masafer Yatta when Israel first declared it a firing zone, "as they maintained a nomadic lifestyle based on farming and herding."
However, Masafer Yatta’s inhabitants and rights organisations uphold that Palestinians have lived there as their permanent residence even before Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 - which makes their eviction against international law.
The European Union condemned the eviction plans, which would mark one of Israel's biggest expulsion campaigns in decades if executed, emphasising that “settlement expansion, demolitions and evictions are illegal under international law.”
Earlier this year, Israel advanced plans for the construction of more than 4,000 settler homes in the occupied West Bank, a move condemned by much of the international community.
As the West Bank and East Jerusalem are seen as occupied territories under international law, all Israeli settlements there are illegal, and the international community supports a two-state solution to the conflict.