The military’s war of attrition against a man trying to access his father's farmland trapped inside the “seam zone”: a year-long battle and numerous interventions by HaMoked were required to renew his “agricultural work” permit המוקד להגנת הפרט
The military’s war of attrition against a man trying to access his father's farmland trapped inside the “seam zone”: a year-long battle and numerous interventions by HaMoked were required to renew his “agricultural work” permit
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Since 2003, the Israeli military has been implementing a permit regime in the West Bank areas trapped between the separation wall and the Green Line, areas dubbed the “seam zone”. Every Palestinian living in these areas or interested in going there requires a special permit. Permit applications are filed and processed according to a lengthy and confusing set of orders, revised periodically and dubbed the “Standing Orders for the Seam Zone”. This permit regime applies to Palestinians only – Israelis and tourists need no permit to enter or stay in “seam zone” areas.

HaMoked has argued that the entire Seam Zone permit regime is illegal. In addition, for as long as this regime is in place, HaMoked has been advocating to remove needless bureaucratic burdens imposed on Palestinians who need to access the "seam zone" and must navigate an obstacle course to obtain the necessary permit to do so. In the past year the percentage of farmers who were denied access to their trapped farmland rose drastically. In the following case, a farmer’s son ultimately had his permit renewed, but only after numerous efforts, requiring HaMoked to intervene with the military every step of the way, otherwise the processing of the man’s request would have been halted.

This case concerns a Palestinian man from the town of Nazlat 'Isa, Tulkarm District, whose father owns farmland trapped inside the “seam zone”, where the family grows citrus fruit and olives. Since November 2017, the man had tried to renew his “agricultural work” permit in the “seam zone”, to help his father to take care of their orchard. But his repeated requests remained unanswered. When he finally got a response, he was asked to provide a topographic map and an affidavit stating that the land was not mortgaged or sold. After he submitted the requisite documents, his request was refused on the claim that the plot of land was “beyond the wall”, i.e. outside the “seam zone” – this, after he and his father had received permits to tend their farmland for years.

Therefore, on May 31, 2018, HaMoked applied to the military on the man’s behalf to demand reconsideration of his permit request – a procedure dubbed “review by Head of the DCO” (District Coordination Office). However, on June 5, 2018, the DCO notified the man that “before a review by the Head of the DCO, the resident must attend a hearing by the local commander/his deputy”. HaMoked wrote back to say the man must be summoned directly to a review by the Head of the DCO, given that the Standing Orders establish only two procedures for reconsideration of rejected requests – Head of DCO review and if necessary, an appeal committee.

Following HaMoked’s letter, the demand for this “hearing” vanished, and the man was summoned to attend a review by the Head of the DCO on July 11, 2018, in accordance with the procedure. According to the written summary of the review – that was not given to the man on the spot as required, but sent only following HaMoked’s request – it was determined that a survey visit should be made of the relevant plot of land. A date for the survey was set only after HaMoked’s intervention, and it took place on August 15, 2018.

But the military conjured up a new obstacle: the document summarizing the survey visit – which of course was not given to the man at the end of the tour itself as required, but only delivered some two weeks later at HaMoked’s request – stated that “The resident said that he was unable to work the land because he works in a pharmacy in Ramallah, and asked to give the permit to his father who was also present at the visit”.

On October 14, 2018, HaMoked sent an appeal to the Civil Administration that clarified that the man had not waived his right to receive a permit to tend his father’s orchard: HaMoked explained the case from the beginning and demanded that the man be summoned to an appeal hearing without further delay.

It seems the military preferred not to conduct an appeal about this preposterous new grounds for refusal. Instead HaMoked was told the man should come to the DCO and file his request anew so he could receive the permit to which he was entitled. Unsurprisingly, the military had yet another obstacle in store: when the man arrived at the DCO at the appointed time, the soldier at the reception desk refused to take his request. Again, only after HaMoked contacted the DCO urgently, was the request received.

Finally, on November 18, 2018, after nearly a yearlong bureaucratic ordeal, the man received a permit valid for two years.

This is just one of many such cases handled by HaMoked. The series of events in this case demonstrates in a nutshell how the military imposes hurdle after hurdle to wear down farmers and drive them to despair of cultivating their lands. This case also demonstrates the endurance and persistence required – alongside HaMoked’s assistance – of people who wish to farm their trapped farmlands.
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