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HaMoked to the District Court: instruct the military to cancel its arbitrary new policy of refusing Palestinian farmers' requests for permits to "the Seam Zone", claiming their plots of land are too small and don't require cultivation

Since 2003, the Israeli military has imposed a draconian permit regime in the West Bank areas trapped between the separation wall and the Green Line (the armistice line between Israel and the West Bank), an area it refers to as "the Seam Zone". The permit regime applies to Palestinians only; Israelis and tourists do not require a permit to enter the Seam Zone or stay in it. Palestinians who live in the Seam Zone or wish to enter it in order to tend to their lands, visit relatives or conduct business, are forced to obtain a permit, subject to the regulations of a stifling and highly bureaucratic military mechanism, which dictates a myriad of conditions for the receipt of permits to enter and stay in the Seam Zone.

Palestinians who own agricultural land in the Seam Zone are granted, according to the military's regulations, "farmer permits" valid for two years. Recently, the military suddenly tightened its policy for issuing "farmer permits" and "agricultural employment permits" (granted to people who do not own lands, for the purpose of helping with the agricultural work), and began rejecting requests using the arbitrary justification that the plots to which they relate are "tiny", and therefore don't require cultivation. According to the military's new policy, plots are considered "tiny" if the military calculates that they are smaller than 330 square meters. The military applies this policy to plots whose actual size is larger, but a number of family members share ownership of them, and the proportional size of the share of each family member is smaller than 330 square meters. Many plots in the Seam Zone have several owners due to the local legal practice according to which lands are inherited upon the death of their owner by his or her heirs, without being subdivided, and the family continues to cultivate the lands together and share their produce.

On November 19, 2018, HaMoked submitted a petition to the Jerusalem District Court demanding that it instruct the military to issue an entry permit to the Seam Zone, valid for two years, to a Palestinian resident of Qaffin for the purpose of cultivating his lands and maintaining his affinity to them. HaMoked also demanded that the court instruct the military to stop rejecting requests for permits submitted by landowners, claiming the plots are too small. At the individual level, HaMoked claimed that the state is seriously and disproportionately harming the man's right to property and freedom of movement, though he received "farmer permits" to the Seam Zone for years, and though the yield from his lands is his only source of income. At the principled level, HaMoked claimed that the state is violating its obligation before the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to guarantee that Palestinians and their relatives maintain access to their lands trapped behind the separation wall. HaMoked stressed that the inevitable result of the military's new policy is that, sooner or later, all lands in the Seam Zone will be considered "tiny" and not in need of cultivation, because the number of owners of each plot will naturally continue to grow in the future.

This petition was submitted to the Jerusalem District Court, after the authority to hear petitions relating to the Seam Zone was moved from the HCJ pursuant to an amendment to the Administrative Courts Law, which went into effect on October 26, 2018. Before the law went into effect, on October 4, 2018, HaMoked submitted a petition to the HCJ on behalf of a Palestinian man whose mother owns lands in the Seam Zone, demanding that he be issued a permit valid for two years in order to cultivate the lands. HaMoked claimed that the mother has a right to maintain her affinity to the land she owns and cultivate it, but due to her old age and her ill health, she is unable to cultivate the lands herself. HaMoked stressed that the military refuses to issue the woman's son an entry permit for the purpose of cultivating the land, claiming that the plot is too small and doesn't justify issuing an "agricultural employment permit". This, despite the fact that the plot is 17.5 dunams in size (approximately 4.5 acres), and was intensely cultivated by the family until the construction of the separation wall. HaMoked further stated that the refusal to issue the son a permit seriously harms the family's right to property and freedom of employment.

Since the beginning of 2018, the military refused requests for entry permits to the Seam Zone of 31 Palestinians who are represented by HaMoked, claiming that the plots they wish to access are too small. This, compared to 9 such cases in 2017, and only one case in 2016. It seems that this new policy, which is not justified by any security necessity, is just another facet of the military's attempt to restrict access of Palestinians to their lands in the Seam Zone, and to bring about their gradual dispossession. (02) 627 1698   (02) 627 6317

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