By EA Bethany, Northern West Bank
“Look, I know this village. They depend on this land. They don’t go to work in Israel. They have this land and that is it. What will they do if they lose it? What?”
This question was put to us by a local human rights activist who introduced us to Tayseer Amarnah, a Palestinian farmer. Tayseer is also the mayor of a village in the north of the West Bank. The village sits almost a kilometre from the ‘Green Line’ that divides Israel from occupied Palestine. But the separation barrier, which was not built along the internationally-agreed green line, and encroaches into Palestine, is right next to the village. The placement of the barrier means that there is a lot of Palestinian land – almost 34,000 acres – that is now on the Israeli side of the wall. This ‘seam zone’ has many implications for Palestinians who live on or own this land.
For example, Tayseer can only tend to his crops on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, at certain times of the day, when the barrier gate is open. He also needs a permit to cross over.
Tayseer’s account of the years since the barrier’s construction indicates that making a living has been tough. One year famers were given a six-month permit for the gate nearest their village, but it was only opened for one month during the olive harvest. The farmers’ permits were only valid at that particular gate, so their six-month permits became useless for five months of the year. In other years, due to the problems obtaining permits, land lay neglected and became susceptible to fires. On four separate occasions fires destroyed large areas of land. Some farmers tried to claim compensation for the losses given their inability to access the land. The court’s response was to accuse the Palestinian fire brigade of incompetence. The fact that the fire brigade had to wait, like everyone else, for the gate to be opened, seemed to go unheard.
After 14 years of difficulties, those farming in the seam zone now face a new challenge. “Of the 223 farmers who usually get permits in Akkaba, now only 27 people have one.” Tayseeer says.
In February a military order decreed that if you own (or can only prove ownership of) less than 330 m² of land you will be ineligible for an access permit. In protest against these new measures the office dealing with permits refused to accept new applications, so no one has been able to renew their access since February. It is estimated that 55 per cent of all permits will expire in 2017.
Of the ten members of Tayseer’s family, only he and his son are now able to cross the barrier. The press is reporting that the freeze on renewing permits has now been lifted, and people are now able to renew expired ones, but the ambiguous rules that connect property size with permission to access still exist. In a long running battle to maintain access to land on the wrong side of the barrier, Tayseer’s family is just one of many who are struggling to provide for themselves. What will they do if they lose this land?
Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone should have freedom of movement within their own country. Write to your MP or MEP (or Irish, Scottish or Welsh equivalents). Forward them a link to this blog and ask what their party is prepared to do about human rights violations in occupied Palestine.