A village near the Palestinian city of Hebron.
A village near the Palestinian city of Hebron. Photo by Michal Fattal
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The High Court of Justice has extended until July 29 the deadline for the State Prosecutor's Office to respond to two petitions against the planned expulsion of Palestinians from an Israeli military firing zone in the South Hebron Hills. The petitioners seek to prevent the eviction of 1,300 Palestinians from eight villages in an area that had been declared Firing Zone 918. This was the second extension in five months, and it was granted despite the court's censure of the state for its foot-dragging on the issue.

Whether directly or not, the State Prosecutor's Office must address in its response a legal opinion, submitted with the petitions filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and attorney Shlomo Lecker, in which Israeli experts in international law Eyal Benvenisti, David Kretzmer and Yuval Shany cited the Geneva Convention's prohibition against the forcible transfer of a protected population (in occupied territory) and argued that the Palestinians could seek redress in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

It should be noted that the European Union position is also that these expulsions will be considered a "forcible dislocation" that violates international law.
In the extension application the director of the High Court petitions office in the State Prosecutor's Office, Osnat Mandel noted the "hundreds of hours" spent in Israel's Civil Administration in the West Bank and in the Military Advocate General Corps preparing the response. She also noted the "dozens of pages and two binders of appended documents" in which MAG submitted its position to her office in early July.

ACRI and Lecker filed their petitions in January 2013, based on petitions from 2000. Since then, hearings on the petitions have been postponed twice due to the state's delay in submitting its response. One day before the July 12 deadline set by Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor, the state attorney's office asked for an extension until August 6. Naor granted the state an extension until July 29.

In October and November 1999, the IDF expelled around 7,000 Palestinians living in 12 small villages in a 30,000-dunam (7,500-acre) area in the South Hebron Hills that had been declared a firing zone. The IDF also destroyed many of the buildings and caves in which the families had lived for generations, calling them "illegal structures in a firing zone."

In response to the two petitions submitted in 2000 by ACRI, the court issued an interim injunction under which the residents were to return to their homes until a final decision was made.

The state requested extensions 27 times, until in July 2012 it told the court that then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak had decided that the residents of four of the 12 villages could remain in the area. The part of the firing zone where these four villages are located is also the site of several unauthorized settlement outposts, built since 1997.