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 June 27, 2017, HaMoked submitted a freedom-of-information request regarding access of Palestinians to the Seam Zone from 2014 onwards. Among other things, HaMoked requested data on the number of requests for permits to enter the Seam Zone, the number of permits issued and the number of refusals. All these, divided into the permit categories established by the military: farmer permits (for registered landowners); agricultural-work permits (for people assisting in cultivation, including landowners’ relatives); personal-needs permits; commerce permits; and commercial-work permits.
As no substantive response arrived within the stipulated timeframe, on April 17, 2018 HaMoked petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to instruct the military to respond to its request. It took another five months for the military to send a partial response on November 26, 2018.
In its response, the military provided details on permit requests in the years 2014-2018 (with a breakdown according to the computerized grounds for refusal). The data illustrates the severe harm caused by the very construction of the separation wall, with tens of thousands of Palestinians having to apply for permits for farming, business, and other needs. A worrying picture emerges from the data, showing a considerable rise in the number of refusals of permits relating to farming: in 2014, the military rejected about 24% of farmer-permit requests and about 30% of agricultural-work permit requests. In 2016, these figures were 54% and 27% respectively. But in 2018 (as of the response date), the military rejected fully 72%(!) of farmer-permit requests and about 50% of the requests for agricultural-work permits. These figures support HaMoked’s contention that contrary to the ruling of the HCJ recognizing the rights of Palestinians to cultivate their farmlands, together with their relatives and laborers, the military systematically strives to deny this basic right, to restrict the entry of Palestinian farmers to the Seam Zone, and gradually dispossess them from their lands.
Moreover, although Israel justifies the Seam Zone and the permit regime imposed therein on security needs, over the years the percentage of security-based refusals (“Israel Security Agency ban”) does not exceed 6% of all refusals of farmer-permit requests, and is usually under 2%. The vast majority of these requests were refused based on various bureaucratic reasons, primarily “failure to meet the criteria”. The percentage of refusals for farmer permits on this ground has reached an unprecedented high, with 83% of the requests denied for “failing to meet the criteria”. This figure accords with the new approach of the military to reject many farmers’ permit requests on the arbitrary claim that their plots of land are too small to require cultivation.
Refusals (Approx. %)
Security-Based Refusals (%)
|Agricultural work||24,244||17,053||7,155||30%||No Data|
|2018 (Until Nov. 25)|
The military stated that it could not provide additional data HaMoked sought, as it could not be digitally computed. Thus, data that is vital for understanding the situation on the ground – and for HaMoked’s work in this area – remains unavailable, including the number of permits confiscated by the military; the number of permits issued following an administrative appeal or a court petition; and the number of permits for the olive harvest and their duration – as HaMoked has recently noticed that the military has been issuing them for unreasonably short periods, often instead of long-term farmer permits.
Following receipt of the response, on December 2, 2018, HaMoked requested the court to delete the petition and order court costs in HaMoked’s favor.