Israel's Supreme Court has ruled a Bedouin village can be demolished in the occupied West Bank. The ruling comes on the same day that the Israeli army closed the only crossing into the Gaza Strip.
Israel's Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank could be torn down. The court rejected an appeal against the demolition and ruled that its stay would expire in a week.
The fate of Khan al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem, has drawn international attention, with the United Nations and others expressing grave concern. It has also become a rallying cry for the Palestinians, whose leaders have gathered there to protest its planned demolition.
Israel claimed the village, which is an encampment of corrugated shacks near the Kfar Adumim settlement, was built illegally and has offered to resettle the residents about 12 kilometers (7 miles) away. Critics, however, counter that it's impossible for Palestinians to get building permits.
The three judges hearing the appeal said they were given no evidence to warrant overturning the previous verdict and said there was no question about the illegality of the construction on the site.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman praised the judges for what he called a "brave" ruling. "No one is above the law. No one can stop us from implementing our sovereignty and responsibility as a state," he said.
Israel said the buildings that make up the Khan al-Ahmar encampment, which include an Italian-funded school, posed a threat to residents because of their proximity to a highway. But critics have dismissed this claim as a ploy to remove the village's 180 or so residents to clear the way for new Jewish settlements.
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Israel to drop its plans and said that the destruction of private property by an occupying power violates international law.
One of the lawyers representing Khan al-Ahmar residents, Tawfiq Jabareen, said the court "was following Israel's right-wing government" in its ruling, which he said was "legally wrong."
"It is not based on legal arguments and contradicts past Supreme Court rulings," he told AFP. "This is unfortunately what the government wants, and the court doesn't want to intervene."
Jabareen said there were currently no understandings between the state and residents on a voluntary relocation. "I've never seen someone who's being expelled and whose house is being destroyed sitting idly by," he said.
Gaza crossing closed
Meanwhile, Israel closed its only pedestrian border crossing to the Gaza Strip after a violent demonstration the previous day, just 10 days after the crossing had reopened.
"Yesterday, a violent riot was instigated in the area of the Erez crossing, with the participation of hundreds of Palestinian rioters," the army said in a statement. "Subsequently, it was decided to close the Erez crossing until the damage caused by the rioters will be repaired."
The Palestinians were protesting an announcement by the US government on Friday that it would cease all funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which helps some 3 million needy refugees.
Washington had already plunged the nearly 70-year-old agency into financial crisis in January with its announcement of a $300 million (€258 million) funding freeze. The United States was, until last year, the biggest contributor by far to the UNRWA.
Most children in Gaza attend UNRWA-run schools whose funding beyond the end of this month is now in doubt, along with that of the agency's network of clinics and food distribution centers.
The army said that the protesters on Tuesday had damaged the infrastructure of the crossing with rocks thrown from the Gaza side.
It said the crossing would remain open for "individually approved humanitarian cases."