Late last Wednesday night, while millions of Israelis were celebrating Israel’s 74th Independence Day, the High Court of Israel finalized a ruling that will impact the lives of many Palestinians. After 20 years of legal battles, the court ruled that the IDF could evict around 1,300 Palestinians living in eight villages in the South Hebron Hills. If carried out to completion, this move would leave the local population homeless, further entrench Palestinian distrust of Israel, incite violence, and move us further away from a two-state solution.

Stretching over 33,000 dunams in the South Hebron Hills, this area, known locally as Masafer Yatta, was originally designated for the military in the 1980s. The set of towns is located in Area C of the West Bank on privately owned Palestinian land. For decades, Palestinians living in this area, designated as Firing Zone 918, have been petitioning the High Court to prevent the expulsion and displacement of their communities on the grounds that their presence in the area has been consistent for decades. They also argue that a massive population transfer like the one that would occur if this area was evacuated would be a flagrant violation of international law. The Israel High Court countered Palestinian claims, stating that the residents haven’t consistently lived in the areas designated for the firing zone. The government claims that construction in the eight hamlets in this area are illegal, with many buildings being built without the required permits, and residents have already faced significant home demolitions and poor living conditions.

For those committed to a secure and democratic future for Israel embodied by a two-state solution, this ruling by the Israeli High Court is an unwelcome step that will exacerbate the conflict. First and foremost, this decision will inevitably create a dire humanitarian situation. If carried out, over a thousand Palestinians will not just become homeless, but also landless. Most of the residents of Firing Zone 918 work as herders and farmers, raising goats and sheep alongside the hillsides. To become displaced not only leaves them without a roof over their heads, but strips them of their livelihood and income. Beyond the effects this will have on individuals and families, this is counterproductive to developing the Palestinian economy, creating positive socioeconomic conditions for Palestinians, and ensuring stability in the West Bank, all of which are foundational ingredients to help all parties move towards a two-state solution.

The West Bank

The Palestinans’ connection to physical land runs deep. It is key part of Palestinians’ identity, a core pillar of the Palestinian national psyche. As seen throughtout the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but most recently in East Jerusalem during the 2021 conflict in Sheikh Jarrah, the threat of eviction and loss of land will spark a significant response. It should be noted that the court did recommend a compromise: the villagers could agree with the military on using parts of the land for agricultural purposes. Nevertheless, given that the importance of land to Palestinian collective identity is so strong, this was not enough to appease the residents. Ultimately, if carried out, this decision will likely lead to even more violence than what we have already seen in recent months, weeks and even days, all but ensuring further loss of life for both Israelis and Palestinians. This is in neither party’s interest.

Additionally, this decision will exacerbate Palestinian distrust of Israel and Israeli government institutions, which already see very little support in Palestinian society. One important aspect to mention is that many of the farmers who live in Firing Zone 918 are nomadic, traveling between areas dependent on where their flocks need to go, similar to many Bedouin communities that also face eviction in Israel’s South. While this reality could partially explain why the High Court ruled the way it did, many Palestinians view this as yet another example of an Israeli legal system that is biased against their interests and traditional ways of life. This further delegitimizes Israel and Israeli rule in the eyes of Palestinians, rather than showing the local population that Israel is the fair arbitrator it claims to be. Trust between parties is a key ingredient of a two-state solution. If we are ever to resolve this conflict, both parties need to actively create and implement confidence-building measures to bring people to the table. Decisions like this are counterintuitive to any such goal.

A Bedouin village in the Negev, Israel

It should also be noted that the current government does not endorse a two-state solution to the conflict. Why then, should they care about decisions that would move them further away from this reality? While the government does not explicitly support two states, it had outwardly endorsed Micah Goodman’s philosophy of “shrinking the conflict”—implementing policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians that reduce regional friction and tension. A decision to evacuate 1,300 Palestinians is completely contrary to this doctrine, increasing rather than shrinking tensions. Moreover, this is incredibly bad PR for the Israeli government, already under significant scrutiny for its internal political crisis and recent violence on the Temple Mount. Particularly in the era of social media, every little action matters. Is the eviction of 1,300 Palestinians to make room for another firing zone (which would really have minimal impact on the IDF’s battle readiness) worth the PR nightmare already unfolding? Finally, and most importantly, this decision is almost guaranteed to cause violence that will harm Israeli citizens. The Defense Ministry, the body in charge of implementing law and carrying out evictions in the West Bank, has so far declined to comment on the current situation. However, with the current evictions poised to jeopardize the defense of Israelis and Palestinians alike, the Defense Ministry has to ask itself if one firing zone is worth it.

Ultimately, this incident is not the first case of mass eviction nor will it be the last. Those of us in the policy space who care about a two-state solution and Israeli security need to seriously dissect the effectiveness of Israeli policy regarding evictions and land control, for the implications of these rulings on the future of regional dynamics, local politics and political trends are highly significant. The forced displacement of Palestinians is not just detrimental to their livelihoods, but bad for Israeli security and stability.