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3.6.2020

HaMoked to the HCJ: Dismantle 6 kilometers of the Separation Barrier in the West Bank; this section dispossesses farmers with no security rationale

  • Farmers from three Palestinian villages say Israel has broken every promise it made to let them cultivate their lands since the separation barrier was built in their area about 15 years ago, and that they have been cut off from about 3,200 dunams of land they own
  • After 102 petitions warned of potential future harm to Palestinians as a result of the barrier, this is the first petition to address proven harm to Palestinian life in the years since its construction
  • The petition reveals that Israel revokes permits given to Palestinian farmers for reasons related to agriculture and completely unrelated to security

As the Israeli government prepares to annex parts of the West Bank as part of President Trump’s “deal of the century,” seven farmers from the villages of Qaffin, Nazlat’ Isa and Akkabah, in the northwest of the West Bank, petition Israel’s High Court of Justice to dismantle a section of the separation barrier built about 15 years ago. This is the first petition in a decade to challenge the route of the barrier. While most previous petitions addressed planned sections and the possible future harm to Palestinian life, this petition relates to an existing section of the barrier with proven severely negative effects on the lives and livelihoods of residents of the adjacent villages. The petition was filed by HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, an Israeli NGO that has been defending human rights in the occupied territories since 1988, represented by Attorneys Michael Sfard and Haya Abu Warda.

The petition focuses on a roughly 6-kilometer section of the barrier, stretching from the Nazlat’ Isa gate in the south to Route 161 in the north. In this aerial photo, the section of the fence is marked with a thick white line. To the west of it, marked with a dotted line, is the Green Line, which served as the border between Israel and the West Bank from the 1949 Armistice Agreement to the 1967 War.

qaffin
qaffin_enlarged
In the petition, the farmers describe how, in the years since this section of the barrier was built in 2005, the Israeli military has gradually reduced the number of permits that give them access to over 3,200 dunams of their land, which is trapped between the separation fence and the Green Line in the area Israel calls the “seam zone.” One of the petitioners is also the head of the Akkabah village council.

The farmers describe how the military has reduced the window of time in which it allows them to cultivate their lands; forbidden use of the land for grazing livestock; banned the entry of farming equipment, pesticides and fertilizers; limited opening hours at the gates between the villages and the lands; and drags its feet when processing permit applications and appeals against rejected applications. As a result, orchards have dried up, lands are uncultivated, yield from the trees that remain has dropped sharply, and many farmers have given up and stopped trying to access their lands. All of this has led to a 90% reduction in the income farmers draw from these lands.

The petition also describes how measures taken by the military to restrict and hinder farmers’ access to their lands beyond the barrier completely defy the promises it made to the High Court over the years to allow Palestinians to access these lands. And so, the system put in place for seam zone entry permits, initially presented as a way of securing access - has emerged, over the years, as instrumental in the dispossession of farmers. The restrictions, prohibitions and red tape the military has instituted around these permits have made access to the lands impossible - contrary to repeated promises.

For example, the petition notes that while 75% of the applications for seam zone entry permits made by West Bank farmers in 2014 were approved (3,221 permits issued for the seam zone in total), in 2018, only 26% of the applications were approved (1,876 permits issued). For Qaffin specifically, between 2012 and 2014, 1,800 to 2,000 permits were issued each year for farmers and agricultural workers; that number has now shrunk to about 350 a year, an 85% drop. The number of entry permits given to residents of Akkabah dropped from an average of 165-189 until 2014, to just 65.

Farmers also note that in recent years, the military has denied them access to lands on grounds related to agricultural issues and feasibility, as interpreted by the Civil Administration Agriculture Staff Officer. This new development is a sharp departure from what Israel has been telling the courts for years, which is that the separation barrier was built for security reasons alone.

In this context, the petition notes: “Ultimately, the clear result... is a drastic reduction of Palestinian presence and farming in the area, a reduction in the types of crops that can be grown in the seam zone, incurable harm to soil fertility and the crushing of farmers whose lives depended on their lands”. The petition goes on to note: “The concrete walls and barbed wire fences that make up the separation barrier shatter and trample every single one of the petitioners’ basic rights and the rights of members of their community: The rights to a livelihood, freedom of movement, family life, participation in cultural and social life, equality, dignity.”

An expert security opinion by Colonel (reserves) Shaul Arieli, an Israeli expert on the separation barrier, was submitted along with the petition. Arieli notes that dismantling this section of the fence and relocating it to the west, along the Green Line, would not only end the disruption of life in Qaffin, Nazlat’ Isa and ‘Akkabah – but would also better serve Israel’s security needs. A barrier along the Green Line in this area would be preferable according to the security parameters the military itself defined: topographical superiority, observation, advance warning, pursuit and other operational considerations.

Jessica Montell, HaMoked Executive Director: “This petition is the inevitable result of 15 years of experience with the military’s seam zone permit regime. Rather than facilitating access, as the military promised, this cumbersome bureaucracy serves to dispossess entire Palestinian communities of their land, stripping people of their livelihoods and their sources of income, without even the pretense of a security justification. In fact, there’s no security reason for the fence to be built inside the West Bank in this area. So we expect the High Court to make sure that where the fence is designed to dispossess Palestinians rather than protect security - it will be dismantled.”
mail@hamoked.org.il (02) 627 1698   (02) 627 6317

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