In early October 2003, the OC Central Command ordered the area between the separation barrier in the northern section of the West Bank (Stage 1) and the Green Line a closed military area for an indefinite period of time.
This area, known as the “seam area,” covers a total of 96,000 dunams [4 dunams = 1 acre], or 1.7 percent of the West Bank. The area includes twelve Palestinian villages, containing 11,400 residents, and ten settlements, in which 22,000 people live.
The prohibition on entering and being in the seam area without a permit from the Civil Administration, applies only to Palestinians. Israeli citizens, including settlers living in the seam area, Jews from around the world, and tourists visiting Israel are allowed to enter and stay in this area as they wish.
By means of several directives, drafted in the dry wording of legal documents, the defense establishment has created a new regime in the seam area that will greatly affect residents of the West Bank in general, and Palestinians residing in the seam area in particular.
According to the new directives, all Palestinians over the age of twelve who live in the seam area will be required to obtain a “permanent resident permit” from the Civil Administration to enable them to continue to live in the their homes. Palestinian residents whose request for a permit is rejected may argue their case before a military committee. If the committee denies the appeal, they must leave their homes.
The directives do not state the criteria for obtaining the permit except for the requirement that the resident provide evidence that he/she resides in the place “to the satisfaction” of the Civil Administration. The kind of evidence necessary is unclear, and in effect the Civil Administration has almost complete discretion to grant or deny the permits. The lack of clear criteria makes it possible that decisions will be made arbitrarily and on the basis of extraneous considerations, under the veil of ostensible legality.
The new regime will require Palestinians whose families have lived in the seam area for generations to go to the Civil Administration to seek the permission to continue to live n their homes and to cultivate their fields, and to return to the officials on a regular basis to obtain permit renewals. Thus, the automatic right of a person to live in his own home now becomes a privilege subject to Israel’s discretion. The directive creates an absurd situation, in that it applies to Palestinians but not to foreigners on their first visit to Israel who are allowed to enter the seam area and stay there as they wish.
Residents of the West Bank who do not live in the seam area will have to obtain special permits to enter the seam area. Thousands of Palestinians needing to enter this area for various reasons must enter through gates erected along the barrier. The new directives create twelve kinds of permits that will be issued by the Civil Administration. They are based on the purpose of entry into the closed area: merchants, traders, farmers, teachers, students, and so on. The applicants will have to compete forms and present various certificates and documents, depending on the kind of permit requested. For example, Palestinians with farmland in the seam area will have to provide “documents indicating the applicant’s rights to the land”; teachers in villages in the seam area will have to present certificates proving they are authorized teachers. The permits indicate a certain gate through which the holder of the permit must cross, and the times of day at which the holder is allowed to pass. Sleeping over in the seam area, bringing a vehicle into the area, and transporting merchandise into the area require separate permits.
No criteria have been set for granting these entry permits. However, it is likely that every request will be forwarded to Israel’s security services, so that individuals with a “security record” will not be allowed entry. In an interview with the press, the head of the Ministry of Defense’s Seam Area Administration, Netzach Mashiah, stated that, “if the son of a farmer has a security record, he will not be allowed to pass. The farmer must take this into account.” Also, obtaining a permit from the Civil Administration does not ensure that the holder will be allowed to cross through the gates. When a comprehensive closure is imposed, all the permits are revoked.
These arrangements will severly harm the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank that depend on entry into the seam area to meet daily needs. Past experience indicates that Israel exploits its ability to refuse to grant movement permits to Palestinians, to attain improper objectives. For example, Israel has placed pressure on residents to turn them into collaborators and has imposed collective punishment on residents of a particular village for attacks perpetrated against Israelis.
The new regime will further infringe the human rights of the Palestinian population that resulted from the government’s decision to build the separation barrier within the West Bank. This decision imprisons Palestinians between the barrier and the Green Line. Residents in this area, as well as those who wish to enter the area, will now be dependent on the benevolence of the defense establishment, even though they are suspected of no wrongdoing. The directive affects these residents solely because of their poor luck in living or working east of the route where Israel decided to construct the barrier.
The new rules create another dimension in the discriminatory policy that Israel implements against Palestinians in the West Bank. Currently this regime applies to only a relatively small percentage of area of the west Bank, however, it is likely that Israel will extend these rules to other areas in the west Bank as the construction of the barrier continues.