Originally published at Digital Journal 

Israel’s defense minister has ordered the demolition of eight Palestinian villages in the occupied West Bank because the land on which they stand, some of them since at least as far back as the 1800s, is needed for military training exercises.

The doomed villages, all located in the South Hebron Hills, are: Majaz, Tabban, Sfai, Fakheit, Halaweh, Mirkez, Jinba and Kharuba. Four villages; Tuba, Mufaqara, Sarura and Megheir-al-Abeid, will be spared destruction.

All told, some 1,500 Palestinians will be forced from their homes and relocated in and around the town of Yatta. Some of the condemned Palestinian villages date to at least as far back as the 1800s, more than a century before Israel’s establishment.

For many generations, cave-dwelling Palestinian farmers and shepherds have worked the land, producing milk and cheese and maintaining their traditional way of life even in the face of Israeli invasion and occupation.

Despite the fact that these Palestinian villages predate the modern Jewish state, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Civil Administration consider their occupants to be squatters. Evacuation orders were issued for the 12 villages in 1999, and some 700 Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homes, which were subsequently demolished. But further expulsions were halted by an injunction from Israel’s High Court of Justice, and villagers were permitted to return home– or at least to the land where their demolished homes and farmland once stood.

The IDF asserts that it has been forced to limit military training exercises because of the presence of the villages. A state prosecutor also argued that residents might collect intelligence on IDF methods or steal IDF weapons and use them for terrorist attacks against Israelis.

The slated demolition of the eight Palestinian villages is the latest incident in what many observers, from United Nations human rights investigator Richard Falk, to Nobel Peace laureates Nelson Mandela and Mairead Maguire, to Holocaust survivor Suzanne Weiss, call Israeli ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

The destruction of Palestinian villages has always figured prominently throughout Israeli history. The Nakba, or “catastrophe,” saw the destruction of more than 400 Arab towns and villages as Israel declared its independence in 1948. Sometimes Arab removal was accomplished through acts of extreme brutality, such as when more than 100 residents of Deir Yassin were massacred by Zionist terror militias, with women, young girls and even the elderly raped and executed.

“Terror recordings” of shrieking Arab women were then broadcast from truck-mounted loudspeakers as a method of coercing residents of other villages to flee for their lives and make way for the democratic, Jewish state of Israel that blossomed where hundreds of Arab villages had stood for centuries.

Moshe Dayan, a hero of the Israeli independence struggle and future Foreign and Defense minister, declared in 1969 that:

“We came to this country, which was already populated by Arabs, and we established… a Jewish state here. Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you, because those geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either… There is not one place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”

All told, more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes during the Nakba, and an additional 200,000 were forced out following Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank. United Nations Resolution 194 states that all Palestinian refugees had the right to return to their homes, as well as the right to compensation for damages incurred. But Israel has prohibited this. The UN estimates that there are currently some five million Palestinian refugees being denied their right of return.