The High Court of Justice on Thursday upheld a state order to demolish eight unauthorized Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills that are located in IDF Firing Zone 918.

It ruled in response to a petition filed on behalf of the villages by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel in 2000.

But the court said that the villagers could remain in their homes until November. It also told ACRI that it had the right to refile a petition on behalf of the 1,500 villagers, who herd sheep in the area.

The initial petition involved 12 villages, but in July the Defense Ministry said it would allow four of the villages to use a portion of the firing zone for their homes. The ministry added that it would be problematic to allow the other eight villages to remain.

Despite the court case, the issue lay dormant for years. It came to a head in the past year as growing Palestinian illegal construction in Firing Zone 918 has conflicted with increased IDF use of the area.

The army has also expressed security concerns with respect to permanent construction in the firing zone.

Still, the state has said it would allow the Palestinians temporary access to the area to herd sheep during times when the military was not using it.

In the past few years international organizations, including the UN, have increasingly highlighted the issue of IDF demolitions of Palestinian structures in West Bank firing zones.

A report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that 45 percent of demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures in Area C of the West Bank since 2010 have occurred in firing zones, displacing 820 Palestinians.

The report added that 38 villages with a total population of 5,000 are located in West Bank IDF firing zones.

Under the Oslo Accords, Israeli has complete civil and military control over Area C.

ACRI said it plans to file a new petition with regard to the eight villages. It added that it believed the court’s decision was a technical one, that allowed for a new case that focused on the eight villages.

It noted that in the decision, Justice Uzi Vogelman wrote, “There is no stand taken by the court in its decision to reject the petition. This is made clear by the petitioners being allowed to submit another petition to the court.”

On Wednesday, the heads of 15 European missions located in east Jerusalem traveled to Firing Zone 918 to learn about the issue.

After the visit, they issued a statement on behalf of the EU that called on Israel not to demolish the villages and to do more to protect and encourage Palestinian development of Area C.

“The EU calls upon Israel to meet its obligations regarding the living conditions of the Palestinian population in Area C, by a policy shift entailing accelerated approval of Palestinian master plans, halting forced transfer of population and demolition of Palestinian housing and infrastructure, simplifying administrative procedures to obtain building permits, ensuring access to water and addressing humanitarian needs,” the EU said in the statement.

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