JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military demolished a school in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, an Israeli rights group said, following a court ruling earlier this year that upheld a long-standing expulsion order against eight Palestinian hamlets in the area.
The move follows on a year of deadly violence and rising tensions in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
B'Tselem, the rights group, said schoolchildren were inside the classrooms as soldiers arrived ahead of the demolition. Video provided by the group showed a bulldozer tearing down the one-floor structure as soldiers stood guard nearby.
COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for administrative affairs in the occupied West Bank, said it demolished a building built illegally in an area designated as a closed firing zone.
Israel's Supreme Court in May ruled against the families in the area, known as Masafer Yatta, paving the way for the potential displacement of at least 1,000 people. Rights groups say Israel has been carrying out a gradual demolition of the structures in the area since the ruling, with the school the latest to be torn down.
The military declared the area a firing and training zone in the early 1980s. Israeli authorities have argued that the residents only used the area for seasonal agriculture and had no permanent structures there at the time. In November 1999, security forces expelled some 700 villagers and destroyed homes and cisterns, according to rights groups. The legal battle began the following year.
In its ruling in May, the Supreme Court sided with the state and said the villagers had rejected a compromise that would have allowed them to enter the area at certain times and practice agriculture for part of the year.
The families say they have been there for decades, from long before Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war. They practice a traditional form of desert agriculture and animal herding, with some living in caves at least part of the year, but say their only homes in the hardscrabble communities are now at risk of demolition.
The West Bank has been under Israeli military rule for 55 years. Masafer Yatta is in the 60% of the territory where the Palestinian Authority is prohibited from operating. The Palestinians want the West Bank to form the main part of their future state.