By EA John, Northern West Bank
Agricultural workers begin to gather in front of the padlocked metal gates of a rural checkpoint, some with tractors or donkeys with carts. An elderly shepherd arrives with a flock of sheep and goats. The animals obey the whistles and calls of their master, who skilfully keeps them in the lengthening queue.
Agricultural workers and their animals [Photo: EAPPI/John]
Eventually four soldiers arrive by jeep at a canopied desk some 30–40 metres away. Two more begin to tackle the heavy padlocks on the three sets of ill-fitting gates.
Five at a time, men and women proceed past rolls of razor wire and a trench to show the soldiers their papers. The shepherd and his flock pass the heavily armed guards, slowing to a graceful meander through the third set of gates.
The grinding infringement of the fundamental right of these men and women to access their land and livelihoods – indeed, the right to go out and complete a day’s work – happens in this way every day.
Breaches of this right (a right enshrined in international humanitarian law), are embedded in how movement is restricted, extending into daily life, widely, across the occupied West Bank.In 1949 an Armistice line – ‘the Green Line’ – demarcated Israel and the Palestinian territories; the latter have been occupied continually by Israel since 1967.
In 2002 Israel began building the separation barrier. Controversially, its route deviates substantially from the Green Line, penetrating into the West Bank – at one stage to a planned extent of 22km, placing large swathes of fertile agricultural land, water resources and whole communities between the barrier and the Green Line.
Farmers and workers are separated from their land and employment, and have to comply with short opening times at the agricultural checkpoints along the barrier’s 700km length. On many occasions the gates open late, and the decisions affecting passage can be inconsistent and arbitrary.
Young construction workers say they have been refused for “looking too smart”, suspected of crossing for purposes other than work. When asked why, the soldiers say bluntly, “We are not in a good mood today”.
An elderly female agricultural labourer who harvests thyme is refused entry. She has a permit for the coming months but doesn’t have the current one with her. She says loudly that she was allowed through the neighbouring checkpoint without any problem. A kindly man negotiates with the soldiers and she is eventually let through.
A few days later she passes back through the gate after her day in the fields, having waited for over an hour with many others as the darkness falls and the temperature drops. They are literally locked in, dependant on the arrival of the army for their journey home.
On the occasions when the soldiers don’t arrive, EAs call the humanitarian hotline and receive responses giving security explanations and sometimes outright dismissive sarcasm.In 2004 the International Court of Justice issued an Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/131/1671.pdf). The Court set out strong conclusions as to the illegality of the construction of the wall on occupied Palestinian land and called specifically for cessation of the wall’s construction, the dismantling of those sections already built and of attendant legislative and regulatory systems. The court then set out the reparations and compensation by Israel required as a result of its unlawful actions. The United Nations Register of Damage was established, providing a mechanism to record individual claims of economic loss (http://unrod.org). By June 2016, 55,833 claims with 900,000 accompanying documents had been lodged and 22, 536 reviewed and recorded on the register.
The register reflects just one element of the economic impact of occupation, each record an experience of trying to exercise an age-old necessity and right. A right to labour on your own land and within your own community. All for a day’s work.