EU warns Israel not to evict illegal Palestinian squatters

High Court of Justice ruled in May that South Hebron Hills squatters could be evacuated from state-owned land.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The EU representative to the Palestinian Authority (PA) warned Israel on Thursday not to carry out a High Court eviction order against illegal Palestinian squatters in the South Hebron Hills.

“It cannot be that these people are left homeless and displaced,” said Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff.

Israel, he maintained, “has the obligation to ensure security, safety and the livelihood of the people,” and should not carry out “the strongest mass eviction in decades of Palestinians from an area of their residence.”

Von Burgsdorff’s concern was for some 1,300 Palestinians who have steadily encroached on state land over recent years, setting up herding communities in an area that had been declared a military training ground as far back as the early 1980s.

The squatters claimed that they had lived in the area even before Israel had  regained Judea and Samaria in 1967. They have been fighting eviction for over 20 years, with the help of left-wing organizations.

In May, the High Court accepted photo and documentary proof that there had not been any kind of settlement in the area for over 100 years, until at least 1997, and ruled that the state had the right to throw the illegal residents out.

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According to Regavim, an NGO that monitors illegal Palestinian construction activity in an effort to protect Israel’s national lands and resources, the courts over the years have issued temporary injunctions against the Palestinian building in the firing zone, but the IDF never enforced the law.

Furthermore, the PA and EU funded the building of permanent homes and infrastructure in some 11 locations in attempt to create “facts on the ground,” leading to many more squatters trying to take over this “free” land.

Most of the herders, said Regavim, actually have permanent homes in the nearby village of Yatta.

After the High Court ruling was given, the Civil Administration destroyed 18 structures in May and seven tents were taken down in June.

Backlash over the legal decision came not only from the UN and EU, but also from the United States

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield brought up the matter in May’s monthly Security Council session devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It is important to refrain from unilateral actions that exacerbate tensions and jeopardize a negotiated two-state solution. This includes the situation in Masafer Yatta and other evictions, which we continue to monitor closely and voice our concerns about,” she said.

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At the same time, 20 Democratic senators and 61 Representatives sent a letter to the State Department urging the secretary of state to pressure the Israeli government into stopping the potential evictions of the squatters.

Last month at a Jerusalem conference, von Burgsdorff blamed Israel for Palestinian terrorism, saying it was only natural for those who see home demolitions and feel the repercussions of the security fence on their families’ livelihood to feel hatred towards Israel.