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18.5.2010

Freedom of movement within the West Bank: The court reviews seven petitions filed by HaMoked to allow entry of Palestinian farmers into the seam zone to farm their lands

On April 28, 2010 the Supreme Court jointly reviewed seven petitions filed by HaMoked on behalf of West Bank Palestinians who, after the construction of the separation wall, awoke to find their homes on one side of it and their plots on the other. Their appeals for entry permits into the area referred to as the seam-zone, to allow them to farm their lands, were refused or unanswered.

Prior to the construction of the wall, Israel proclaimed the seam zone a closed military area, which Palestinians can only enter with a permit by the military commander. Israel pledged to formulate a permit regime which allows individuals who own lands inside the prescribed seam zone to receive entry permits or reside therein. Following the construction of the wall, the gap between words and deeds turned evident – thousands of farmers are still denied permits and cannot continue their previous routine.

Two petitions of principle were filed against the permit regime since its inception, demanding revocation of both the seam zone's proclamation as a military closed area and the orders requiring Palestinian residents to obtain entry permits thereto; both petitions, the earlier of which was filed in 2003 (HCJ 9961/03 HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual v. The Government of Israel et al. and HCJ 639/04 The Association for Civil Rights in Israel v. Commander of the IDF forces in Judea and Samaria et al.) are still pending.

In the seven petitions HaMoked filed, both general and individual remedies were requested. HaMoked stressed that it maintains its arguments of the 2003 petition of principle that any Palestinian is entitled to enter the seam zone without needing any permit. However, the current petitions address the issue of Palestinians who live under the permit regime, with substantiated claims to the farmlands.

Under the "Standing Orders regarding the Seam Zone" issued by the Israeli civil administration "a security prohibition per se, does not constitute grounds for refusing an appeal" (emphasis in original). HaMoked demanded that Israel issue entry permits to the seam zone to all Palestinians who have a proven claim to the lands, independent of any "security prohibition". HaMoked further warned of unlawful hearings, unfounded rejections, and the non-acknowledgement of submitted requests for entry permits into the seam zone (which allows the respondents to gainsay a request was ever submitted, even when the person submitted six such requests).

In the hearing, the respondents argued that only a few cases are at issue, and that since the procedural issues will be reviewed in the scope of the petitions of principle, there is no cause to review them in the context of the current petitions.

HaMoked countered that in 2009, in the hearings in the petitions of principle, figures submitted to the court showed that not just a handful but thousands have failed to receive entry permits to their fields.

The court dismissed the claims of principle on the grounds that they are under review in the context of the petitions of principle. Two of the individual petitions were dismissed on the grounds of classified security material concerning the petitioners. In the other five petitions, the court stipulated that the petitioners should resubmit their requests to gain access into the seam zone, and in the interim their petitions should remain pending to allow the court to monitor the handling of the requests.

HaMoked handles dozens of similar cases in which Palestinian farmers do not receive permits to farm their land for a variety of reasons, and as long as necessary, will continue to bring the farmers' plight before the Supreme Court.
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