EU envoy warns against largest IDF eviction of Palestinians in decades

Israel’s High Court of Justice had ruled in May that the army could evict more than 1,000 Palestinians who live in scattered small herding villages in an IDF training area.

 European Union Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff in the south Hebron Hills, July 7, 2022 (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
European Union Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff in the south Hebron Hills, July 7, 2022
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

The IDF may be poised to carry out the largest eviction of Palestinians in decades, warned European Union Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff as he visited some of the 11 endangered West Bank South Hebron Hills herding communities.

“It cannot be that these people are left homeless and displaced,” Burgsdorff told reporters on Thursday as he stood on a sandy road on the edge of a hill, in the hamlet of Khallet Athaba.

Israel’s High Court of Justice had ruled in May that the army could evict more than 1,000 Palestinians who live in scattered small herding villages in an IDF training area known as Firing Zone 918.

If that were to happen, Burgsdorff said “it would be the strongest mass eviction in decades of Palestinians from an area of their residence,” stressing that “Israel has the obligation to ensure security, safety and the livelihood of the people.”

Palestinians had argued that they have herded their sheep in this area since before Israel captured it from Jordan during the Six Day War in 1967. The court, however, found that there was insufficient evidence of their presence on the sparse hilltops and valleys prior to the 1980 firing zone declaration.

  European Union Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff in the south Hebron Hills, July 7, 2022 (credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF) European Union Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff in the south Hebron Hills, July 7, 2022 (credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

Already in May, the Civil Administration demolished 18 structures in Firing Zone 918, known to Palestinians as Masafer Yatta. Seven tents erected in the area were demolished in June.

According to the United Nations – which, like the EU, has supported the Palestinians facing eviction – demolition orders were issued in June “for all seven homes and most livelihood structures in Khirbet at Tabban.”

“Israel has the obligation to ensure security, safety, and the livelihood of the [Palestinian] people."

EU Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff

That same month, the UN said, “Israeli forces went house to house in most communities to photograph residents’ faces and identification documents, raising fear among residents of increased restrictions on movement.”

This month, the IDF is carrying out live-fire training exercises in Firing Zone 918. On Wednesday, Palestinians have charged, an IDF bullet hit the roof of a small stucco home in Khallet Athaba.

Burgsdorff visited with the family and climbed on the roof of the home to survey the site of the bullet.

Once he had climbed down, he told reporters that the IDF had a responsibility to ensure the safety of the people living in Masafer Yatta.

The IDF’s need for a training ground did not justify the eviction of more than 1,000 people,” he said.

“The mere fact of establishing the firing zone or carrying out military exercises and training in that area cannot be considered to be an imperative military reason under international law to expel or evict the population,” Burgsdorff said.

In general, the EU is committed to helping Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank, he said, and has spent more than a million euros in recent years to build them schools and health clinics.

“We will continue to provide humanitarian aid and we will continue to insist that said delivery has to be continued unimpeded.”

Meretz MK Mossi Raz on Thursday weighed in on the allegations that an IDF bullet had hit a home in Khallet Athaba.

He called on Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue and White) to halt the military training, dismissing the IDF contention that the bullet was not connected to it.

For the past two weeks, a military exercise has been taking place in the area of Masafer Yatta, where a military firing area was declared. Activists and residents in the area report that the inspection carried out by the IDF is superficial, and that it is likely that the bullet did indeed come from IDF fire in the area.

The IDF had promised that it would ensure the safety of Masafer Yatta residents, Raz said.

More than 1,000 people in Masafer Yatta were already living under threat of eviction, Raz said. “Now they are forced to live under threat of gunfire without leaving their homes.”