Israel has tightened its restrictions on Palestinian farmers entering the area between the separation fence and Israeli territory.
Until now, Palestinians who own land in this area have been able to acquire agricultural entry permits for the broad purpose of “maintaining their connection to the land.” But under new regulations issued by Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank, the purpose of these permits has been narrowed, and they will also only be good for a certain number of entries.
The new purpose is defined as “enabling agricultural land to be worked based on agricultural needs derived from the size of the plot and the type of produce, while maintaining the connection to these lands.”
Moreover, the number of times a farmer can access his lands will be capped according to the crops grown there. For instance, the maximum number of entries is 40 times a year for olives and onions, 50 times for figs and 220 for tomatoes or strawberries. The new protocol also stipulates that the size of the land would be taken into account when determining the amount of days alloted to a farmer.
If a farmer has exhausted his entry quota, he must apply for a new permit, which will be granted only if he can prove that he was unable to finish his agricultural work within the visits allotted him. This creates a new bureaucratic hurdle for Palestinian farmers.
The area between the separation fence and Israel comprises 140,000 dunams, most of which is Palestinian agricultural land. There are gates in the fence to allow the farmers to access their land, but they are open only for a few hours a day, and Palestinians must have an entry permit to pass through them. They must also obtain permits for any workers they hire to tend their land.
Ahmed al-Abadi, 54, of Tura al-Gharbiya in the northern West Bank, recently received one of the new, limited permits, but refused to accept it. Fifteen of the 42 dunams of land that he owns lie between the separation fence and Israel.
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“They treat our land is if it were a business where we work by the hour,” he said. “I used to sit under a tree on this land with my father and grandfather; all the memories of my childhood are there. It’s not a business, it’s not a matter of profits; it’s our connection to this land.”
In the past, he said, he used to enter the land frequently and spend his free time there. “Now, they’re telling me, ‘You can only enter a certain number of times.’ Let them confiscate the land and be done with it. I’m not willing to accept this.”
Earlier this year, Haaretz reported that the rejection rate for Palestinians applying for agricultural entry permits jumped to 72 percent in 2018 from just 24 percent four years earlier, according to data provided by the Civil Administration to Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual. One reason for this is a growing number of applications rejected on the grounds that the plot is too small to be cultivated, in light of the Civil Administration’s practice of dividing up family plots according to the number of people in the family.
A Palestinian seeking to access lands located between the separation fence and Israel could also apply for a nonagricultural permit, such as one based on “personal needs.”
According to Hamoked, there are 84 gates in the separation fence, but only nine are open on a daily basis. Ten are open once a week and the other 65 are open on a seasonal basis.
“Israel no longer tries to pretend that it respects the right of Palestinian landowners to access their lands that were trapped on the other side of the wall,” said Jessica Montell, Hamoked’s executive director. “We’re talking about more than nine percent of the West Bank’s land. In the name of security, the military bureaucracy is effectively perpetrating land theft in these areas.”
The Civil Administration said the regulations were changed “to ensure that permits are used exclusively for the needs of the agriculture industry and subject to the criteria. In this context, the validity of the permits was lengthened from two years to three, and at the same time, a maximum number of annual entries was set based on the needs of the type of produce and the size of the plot.”