“High Court Endorsed Systematic Discrimination”

The Separation Fence, photo by Emily Schneider


The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual harshly criticized the decision of the High Court of Justice, handed down yesterday (April 5), to uphold the “permit regime,” a policy that obligates Palestinians to obtain special and provisional permits from the army in order to enter the West Bank Seam Zone to access their own farmlands, while allowing Israelis and non-Israelis to enter and exit the area freely. While the justices required the army to alter certain minor arrangements, they did not deal with the illegality of maintaining such a discriminatory system in place, a system that severely violates the basic rights of tens of thousands of Palestinians.


The “permit regime” was started in 2003, shortly after Israel constructed the Separation Fence and declared the Seam Zone – an area of 184,686 dunams located between the Green Line and the fence – a “closed military zone” to Palestinians. Only Palestinians who are able to prove that they are permanent residents of the closed area are allowed to stay there. Other Palestinians must prove, on an ongoing basis, a practical need in order to gain a permit to enter this area. These are obtained through long and exhausting bureaucratic procedures, and even so they are not always granted. The Seam Zone area is cut off from the rest of the West Bank.


The policy turns Palestinians’ human rights into a privilege, dependent on the whims of army commanders and reliant on a complex and non-transparent bureaucratic system that needs to be approached time and time again. Subjecting Palestinians to this system constitutes a severe infringement on freedom of movement and access to land and livelihood, and also limits their access to emergency services.


Furthermore, in recent years there has been a dramatic decline in the number of permits granted: In the past 4 years, Israel has increased the area trapped west of the Separation Fence by 30%, yet at the same time the number of permanent permits given to farmers in this area has decreased by 87%.


ACRI and HaMoked submitted two separate petitions against the permit regime in 2003 and 2004, which the court consolidated into one petition. The organizations argued that the regime itself is unlawful, as it institutionalizes discrimination against Palestinians, who are forced to request these permits time and again, while Israelis and non-Israeli Jews are completely exempt. The organizations also argued that the permit regime places Palestinians under an impossible bureaucracy, the actual purpose of which is to appropriate their lands and eventually to expel them from the Seam Zone. The organizations told the court that security could have been obtained through various inspections, without subjecting so many to such an unheard of restricting system.


Attorney Limor Yehuda, Director of ACRI’s Human Rights in the Occupied Territories Department: “The severe harm suffered daily by tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Seam Zone in utterly unnecessary. Security needs could have been met by other means, such as inspections carried out in gates located along the fence and in checkpoints located on the Green Line itself. This unfortunate ruling is yet another example of how any so-called security claim can be used to strip people of their dignity, disturb their way of life, and take away their source of livelihood”.


Attorney Michael Sfard, who represented HaMoked in the petition: “The permit regime has always been and will remain unfortunately a monstrous legal tool to discriminate between individuals based on their national identity. It is a system that limits the entrance of some nationals to a defined territory, while providing limitless access to other nationals. This type of arrangement is known by a specific name it was given in international law, and it violates not only international law but also human morality. We deeply lament the fact that the High Court decided not to cancel such a regime.”


Further background:


ACRI’s intervention letter (in English) from June 2009: https://law.acri.org.il/pdf/BeitSurik090609.pdf


The High Court ruling (in Hebrew) from April 2011: http://elyon2.court.gov.il/files/03/610/099/N37/03099610.N37.htm


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Categories: Freedom of Movement, International Humanitarian Law, The Occupied Territories, The Right to Property

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