It’s not for discussion

By EA Geoff – Northern West Bank.

Agricultural Gate opening times in occupied Palestine are important for both Palestinian farmers and the Israeli military. For the farmers so that they can get to their land and home on time and for the military to ensure an orderly access to the seam zone.

The seam zone is the strip of land between the 1967 Green Line, the internationally accepted border between Israel and occupied Palestine, and the Israeli separation barrier, which in many places has been built deep into occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law, dividing villages and cutting Palestinians off from their fields on the other side. Access to the seam zone is by Israeli-issued permits only. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) in the EAPPI programme in the north west of the occupied West Bank monitor access through these gates on a regular basis. Difficulties at one gate in particular, at Deir al Ghosun, demonstrate the way the Israeli military operates.

Some days ago the gate opened nearly two hours late. About 65 farmers went through the gate when it opened but at least a further 120 had already given up and gone home. This is a difficult decision for farmers as it usually means losing a day’s pay.

A Palestinian farmer waiting on the other side of Attil gate in the seam zone [Photo: Geoff/EAPPI]

Various reasons were given by the Israeli military’s humanitarian hotline for the late opening: problems elsewhere; someone touching the fence; the gate in question being repaired by soldiers, even though at the time this was said there were no soldiers there. The humanitarian hotline was established by the Israeli military specifically to assist people with difficulties passing through checkpoints and gates.

Timing is therefore important. Coming back from daily work through the gates in the afternoon is also important as farmers are tired and keen to get home. Soldiers also want to get the task done.

So roll on a week and the same gate is open to let farmers back from the seam zone to their homes. All works well, the gate opens on time and over 100 farmers pass through. As the soldiers begin to shut the gate one of the farmers, who has already passed through the gate, realises that some of his fellow farmers are late. He asks the soldiers to keep the gate open and they agree. So far so good. Four farmers arrive at the gate from the seam zone and then appear to be talking to the soldiers. One is let through and explains to us that his permit is OK but the other three have permits for another gate – the one that the soldiers had closed prior to coming to this gate. The soldier determines that they must walk to the gate they have a permit for – some 2 km away through the olive groves – even though he knows it is closed. We walk up to the soldiers to try and negotiate for the farmers to get through – to no avail. The soldier’s final comment to us as he puts the gate key in his pocket is, “It’s not for discussion”.

We drive back to the previous gate, Attil – now closed with no soldiers present – and wait for the farmers to walk to that gate. After some conversations with the humanitarian hotline and senior officials on both the Palestinian and Israeli side the farmers are told to wait at that gate. No-one arrives to let them through and they decide to walk to a third gate which has a later opening.

Mechanisms set up to deal precisely with this kind of situation seem to have failed.

One of the senior Palestinian officials, when told the farmers had walked to another open gate, said, “I will tell you something – nothing can happen with occupation”.