Center for the Defence of the Individual - High Court Approval of West Bank 'Permit Regime' – A Green Light to Expulsion of Palestinians from their Lands
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High Court Approval of West Bank 'Permit Regime' – A Green Light to Expulsion of Palestinians from their Lands

HaMoked and ACRI: "The High Court chose today to endorse a systematic policy of discrimination that is done in the name of security but in fact forces Palestinians out of their own lands"; Permit regime severely restricts Palestinians' freedom of movement and access to land in areas trapped west of the Separation Barrier.

HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) harshly criticized a decision of the High Court of Justice handed down today (April 5) to uphold the "permit regime", a policy which obligates Palestinians to obtain special and provisional permits from the army to enter the West Bank Seam Zone and access their own lands, but allows Israelis and non-Israeli to enter and exit the area freely. While the justices required the army to alter certain minor arrangements, they did not deal with the illegality of maintaining such a discriminatory system in place, one which severely violates the basic rights of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

HaMoked and ACRI submitted separate petitions against the permit regime in 2003 and 2004, which the court consolidated into one petition. The NGOs argued that the regime itself is unlawful as it institutionalizes the discrimination against Palestinians, who are forced to issue these permits time and again, while completely exempting Israelis and non-Israeli Jews. The NGOs also argued that subjecting residents to this impossible bureaucracy is intended to prevent them from accessing their lands and eventually expel Palestinians from their lands. While Israel increased over the years the scope of the territories trapped west of the Separation Barrier by 30%, there has been an 87% decrease since 2007 in the number of permanent permits given to farmers wishing to access their lands.

The "permit regime" began in 2003 shortly after Israel constructed the Separation Barrier and declared the Seam Zone – an area of 184,686 dunams located between the Green Line and the Separation Barrier – a "closed military zone" to Palestinians alone. Only Palestinians who are able to prove that they are permanent residents of the closed area are allowed to stay there. Other Palestinians must prove, on an ongoing basis, a practical need in order to gain a permit to enter this territory. These are obtained through long and exhausting bureaucratic procedures, and even so they are not always granted. The Seam Zone area is cut off, de jure and de facto, from the rest of the West Bank.

The policy turns Palestinians' human rights into a privilege, dependent on the whim of army commanders and reliant on a complex and non-transparent bureaucratic system that needs to be approached time and again. Coercing Palestinians to this system constitutes a severe infringement on freedom of movement and access to land and livelihood, and also limits their access to emergency services. The organizations told the court that security could have been obtained through various inspections, without subjecting so many to such an unheard of restricting system.  

Attorney Limor Yehuda, head of ACRI's Human Rights in the Occupied Territories department: "The severe harm suffered daily by tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Seam Zone in utterly unnecessary. Security needs could have been met through other means, such as inspections carried out in gates located along the barrier and in checkpoints located on the Green Line itself. This unfortunate judgment is another example of the way in which any so-called security claim is used to strip people from their dignity, disturb their way of life, and take away their source of livelihood".
Attorney Michael Sfard, who represented HaMoked in the petition: "The permit regime has always been and will remain unfortunately a monstrous legal tool to discriminate between individuals based on their national identity. It is a system that limits the entrance of some nationals to a defined territory while providing limitless access to other nationals. This type of arrangement is known by a specific name it was given in International Humanitarian Law. We deeply lament the High Court decision to uphold such a regime, which violates and the basic principles of human morality".