Since 2003, the Israeli military has been imposing a draconian permit regime in the West Bank areas trapped between the separation barrier 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, and completely exempts Israelis and tourists. Most Palestinians are not allowed to enter the Seam Zone, and those whose needs come under the circumscribed entry criteria must navigate a complex and stifling military bureaucracy, antagonistic to their rights and traditions. Primarily violated are the rights to dignity and freedom of movement inside one’s own country and often also the rights to property and freedom of occupation.
On January 21, 2021, HaMoked filed a principled petition to the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to demand that Palestinians in their sixth decade – women aged 50 and up and men aged 55 and up – be allowed to enter the Seam Zone without special permits. Among other things, HaMoked noted that Palestinians in these older age groups can freely enter Israel and so there could be no security justification to bar them from reaching parts of the West Bank, or require that they undergo the exhausting and de-facto adversarial procedure of seeking a Seam Zone permit.
In its May 12, 2021 response to the petition, the state announced its decision to amend the Seam Zone entry regulations such that all Palestinians holding permits to enter Israel (whether individual or collective permits) may freely enter the Seam Zone. The state clarified that this would apply also to the older age groups on whose behalf the petition was filed, in the absence of an individual security or criminal preclusion. However, the state stressed that holders of Israeli entry permits would be allowed into the Seam Zone only through the 13 separation barrier checkpoints designated for entry into Israel, and not through the dozens of seasonal and agricultural gates in the barrier. This, claimed the state, in order to prevent overcrowding at these gates should they be opened for traffic of the more than 200,000 people holding permits to enter Israel. Inexplicably, the state argued the petition should be rejected rather than deleted, because the remedy sought thereby had been given.
On June 3, 2021, HaMoked submitted its response, beginning by noting that the state’s decision had not yet been incorporated into military legislation – which defines which categories of people are except from obtaining a permit to enter the Seam Zone – and that until then the proceedings must continue. As to the decision itself, HaMoked clarified that even if enacted, requiring older Palestinians to access the Seam Zone via the main checkpoints was impractical for farmers. These checkpoints are few and far apart, and farmers would have to travel long distances (some even 20-30 kilometers in each direction) between their home and the nearest checkpoint and then back to their plots. Therefore, the decision would leave the petitioners and other older farmers in the same situation underlying the petition, forcing them to apply for individual permits to enter the Seam Zone via the nearest gate, with all the difficulties this entails. HaMoked added that the demand to reject the petition was inappropriate for the legal situation where a remedy had been given solely due to the petition and that it would send a chilling and misleading message.
* On December 23, 2021, the HCJ deleted the petition following the publication of revised instructions in the Seam Zone Entry Regulations (Sec. 3(D)), and the state’s clarification that by virtue of the “'advanced-age permit' pursuant to which Palestinians may enter Israel under a general [entry] permit, they may also enter and stay in the Seam Zone without an individual permit, and this via the regulated crossings for entry into Israel…”.