Ahead of the court hearing on HaMoked’s petition to dismantle the Qaffin segment of the Separation Barrier inside the West Bank המוקד להגנת הפרט
08.02.2022
Ahead of the court hearing on HaMoked’s petition to dismantle the Qaffin segment of the Separation Barrier inside the West Bank
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On June 3, 2020, HaMoked, represented by Attorneys Michael Sfard and Haya Abu Warda, petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) on behalf of seven Palestinian farmers from the villages of Qaffin, Nazlat’ Isa and Akkaba, in the northwest of the West Bank, to dismantle a roughly 6-kilometer-segment of the Separation Barrier, stretching from the Nazlat’ Isa gate in the south to Route 161 in the north. 3,200 dunams of land belonging to the petitioners and their communities is trapped between the separation fence and the Green Line in the area Israel calls the “seam zone”, where it implements a draconian permit regime. The petition describes how, contrary to the state’s undertaking before the HCJ in 2009, the Barrier itself, coupled with the military’s implementation of the permit regime, severely harmed the lives and livelihoods of residents of the adjacent villages. In the petition, the farmers described how the military had been issuing fewer and fewer permits to farmers; forbidden use of the land for grazing livestock; banned the entry of farming equipment, pesticides and fertilizers; limited opening hours at the gates between the villages and the lands; and dragging its feet when processing permit applications and appeals against rejected applications. As a result, orchards have dried up, lands are uncultivated, yield from the trees that remain has dropped sharply, and many farmers have given up and stopped trying to access their lands, while others have lost roughly 90% of their income from these lands.

In its preliminary response to the petition of December 18, 2020, the state argued that the petition should be deleted due to the “excessive delay” in its filing and also on its merits, as the current “permit regime” arrangement was proportionate and did not justify moving the route of the barrier “with all that this entails with regards to costs and additional damage to other land-area…”.

In its response of September 29, 2021, HaMoked reiterated that since 2014, alongside the growing restrictions, the military had added additional bureaucratic obstacles, both of which are exacerbated by arbitrary implementation on the ground, making the permit regime anything but accessible and efficient. The numerous permits a single farmer must obtain – for themselves, for their family and for their laborers, for farming equipment, materials, transportation and more – mentioned casually in the state’s response, reveal the absurdity of the current situation, especially given that obtaining each permit often entails lengthy proceedings. HaMoked supplemented its response with an expert opinion from Hagit Ofran, of Peace Now, who has extensive experience in interpretation of aerial photography. Based on her analysis of aerial photographs of the area in question taken in 2002 and 2019-2020, Ofran concluded that since the construction of this segment of the Barrier, many plots with field crops had been turned into olive groves or abandoned altogether.

In its response of February 3, 2022, the state argued that the solution for all the problems raised in the petition lay not in shifting the barrier but in “maintaining constant dialogue” with the entities in charge of it – breezily ignoring the hundreds of proceedings HaMoked has conducted vis-à-vis these same entities in its efforts to obtain permits for individual farmers and challenge the increasingly restrictive regulations. The state conceded that there was an annual decrease in the number of permits issued to Seam Zone farmers, but explained it away, among other thing, by citing the “honing” of the criteria for granting farmer permits, due to the alleged phenomenon of “misuse” of the permits, i.e., illicit entry into Israel. The state also submitted two opinions, one attempting to undermine the credibility of Ofran’s opinion, and the other, based on the analysis of other aerial photographs, concluding that there was no indication of a reduction in the scope of agriculture in the Qafin area, but rather of “significant and consistent cultivation”.

The hearing of the petition will take place on February 10, 2022.

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