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Military data: in 2019-2020, majority of farmers’ requests to reach their lands beyond the Separation Barrier are denied and for reasons unrelated to security

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 trade, are forced to obtain a permit subject to the regulations of a suffocating, highly bureaucratic military apparatus, which dictates a myriad of conditions for the receipt of permits to enter and stay in the Seam Zone.

On July 24, 2019, HaMoked sent the military a freedom-of-information request regarding farmers’ requests to enter the Seam Zone which were denied on grounds relating to plot size and land registration for the years 2017-2019. These are three new grounds for refusing permits: the first concerns the claim that the plot is “tiny, to an extent that does not justify cultivation” – HaMoked’s petition challenging this claim is still ongoing. Two other grounds for refusal concern land registration issues – either that the land has not been officially registered in the name of the heir or that it is not registered in the land registry managed by the military’s civil administration (rather than the Palestinian land registry).

On January 20, 2020, HaMoked petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to compel the military to reply to the FoI request (as HaMoked had to do in the previous Seam Zone FoI request). It took the military another five months to respond, and this only to say that it could not produce the data as the “requested breakdowns do not exist”. Instead, the military offered to send HaMoked up-to-date data concerning all requests for Seam Zone permits, as a repeat of its previous response to HaMoked concerning the years 2014-2018. It did not surprise HaMoked that the military chose to obscure important data relating specifically to denial of access to Seam Zone farmlands on grounds of “tiny plot” and land registration issues, instead providing a long list of cryptic and overlapping grounds for refusal.

The data which the military could and did provide reveal that the trend of deteriorating access to lands, evidenced in the previous response, has continued and even escalated. Thus, in 2019, 4,659 requests were rejected out of a total of 7,483 submitted requests, a 62% refusal rate. In the first half of 2020 (until June 10), 1,700 requests out of 2,020 were rejected – a staggering refusal rate of some 84%. Only 1-2% of these refusals were based on security issues. The rest were rejected on various grounds, purely bureaucratic or pseudo agricultural in nature. Altogether, the document lists 30 different grounds for permit refusal, with the most common being “failure to meet the criteria” – accounting for 2,777 of the denied requests in 2019 and 732 in the first half of 2020. The perplexing claim that the “land is not in the Seam Zone” accounts for 181 of the rejections in 2019 and 385 in 2020 (it should be noted that at least in one case, HaMoked succeeded to utterly disprove this claim); and the apparently identical claim that the “land is not in the Area of Judea and Samaria [i.e. the Wes Bank]”, accounts for another 386 of the rejections in 2019 and 247 thus far in 2020. Some of the other grounds for refusal reflect the military’s failure to recognize the Palestinian tradition of shared cultivation by the extended family: “no family ties”, “no immediate tie”, “sufficient permits for land already exist”.

The military justifies the harshening of its policy – both in lowering the number of permit approvals and in drastically restricting the number of days permit-holders may access their lands – because of the widespread phenomenon of exploitation of permits to illegally enter Israel. However, the data show that only rarely are permits rejected due to suspicion of abuse of the permit or illegal presence in Israel (a total of 19 refusals in 2019, and 2 in 2020). The overall data supports HaMoked’s conclusion that the military systematically seeks to prevent land cultivation in the Seam Zone, in violation of the landowners’ right to property, and in complete contradiction to its undertaking before the HCJ to allow farmers free access to their trapped farmlands, to the extent possible. (02) 627 1698   (02) 627 6317

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