Center for the Defence of the Individual - HaMoked to the HCJ: older Palestinian farmers must be allowed to access their plots inside the Seam Zone without needless bureaucratic obstacles
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HaMoked to the HCJ: older Palestinian farmers must be allowed to access their plots inside the Seam Zone without needless bureaucratic obstacles

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; Israelis and even tourists can enter these areas freely. Most Palestinians are not even entitled to request a Seam Zone entry permit. Those whose needs come under the circumscribed entry criteria must navigate a complex and stifling military bureaucracy, antagonistic to their rights and traditions. This system violates Palestinians’ basic rights, first and foremost their rights to dignity and freedom of movement inside one’s own country and often also the rights to property and freedom of occupation.

In January 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, subject to the absence of an individual security preclusion, so there could be no justification to require they obtain permits, with all the cumbersome bureaucracy this entails, to access their own property inside the West Bank. In its response to the petition, the state announced that all Palestinians holding permits to enter Israel, including those belonging to the older-age groups, would henceforth be allowed to freely enter the Seam Zone. However, the state added that entering the Seam Zone without a dedicated Seam Zone permit would be allowed 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 leading to the agricultural plots.

HaMoked countered that the main checkpoints were few and far apart, and that older farmers would have to travel long distances (up to 20-30 kilometers in each direction) in order to reach their plots from their homes via these checkpoints; making it an impractical option that would leave the petitioners and others like them in the same problematic situation as before, repeatedly struggling to obtain Seam Zone permits. On December 23, 2021, the HCJ deleted the petition on the grounds that the requested remedy had been obtained.

HaMoked wrote to the military to request older Palestinians be allowed to access the Seam Zone through the agricultural gates, but was answered on July 5, 2022, that “from the security and operational aspects, there is no feasibility to allow said passage through the agricultural gates…” (emphasis in the original), and that people with “older-age permits” could apply, as before, to receive individual entry permits for passage through the agricultural gates pursuant to the standard regulations.

Therefore, on October 31, 2022, HaMoked petitioned the HCJ once again to demand older Palestinians be allowed to access their plots freely via the agricultural gates, without permits. HaMoked argued that reaching the plots via the distant checkpoints was impractical and left the problem of needless obstacles on access in place. This, stated HaMoked, was in contradiction to the case law regarding the separation barrier, which obligated minimizing to the utmost the permit regime’s harm to the protected population. HaMoked reiterated that older Palestinians were allowed entry into Israel without individual permits because they were deemed by security officials to pose little “threat”. It was therefore clear, asserted HaMoked, that there was no substantive security reason to deny them free access via the Seam Zone agricultural gates, the sole purpose of which was to limit the difficulties in reaching the farmers’ agricultural plots trapped on the other side of the barrier.