Supreme Court justices yesterday (4.5.04) criticized the IDF procedures governing the opening of access points in the separation barrier to allow the supervised passage of Palestinian residents whose access to agricultural land, workplaces, educational institutions, health services, family and a long list of other vital services is prevented by the barrier. The criticism was voiced during the second hearing of the petition that was initially submitted last December by ACRI Attorney Fatmeh El-A’jou on behalf of five residents of four villages of the area between Tulkarm and Qalqilya. The residents were cut off from their source of livelihood and other vital services, and were prevented from leading a normal life by the limited number of access points and their restricted opening hours. Despite a number of promises to ease the situation by the Attorney General, almost nothing has changed on the ground and the impact on the residents is still severe.
At the conclusion of the petition’s court hearing, Chief Justice Aharon Barak vindicated Attorney El-A’jou’s argument and advised representatives of the army and the Attorney General’s office that, “If you cannot provide solutions to the opening hours of the separation barrier (gates), then the barrier has to be moved”. He also criticized the state agencies mode of operation regarding this issue: “One does not build a barrier before resolving these problems! First you solve the problems and then you build the barrier. We are talking about human beings here”. The justices issued a 45-day period for both sides to come to an agreed solution that will enable the residents of the villages to carry on a normal life and work their fields.
The petition was submitted on behalf of four villages, three of which, Jayyus, Falamya and Far’un, are situated to the east of the barrier whose route cuts them off from the majority of their fields and water sources which are to the west of the barrier. The fourth village, Khirbet Jubara, remains on the west side and is cut off from the rest of the West Bank making it almost impossible to maintain their livelihood or for the children to reach their schools. In order to enable the residents to reach their fields, schools, hospitals, and other vital services, a series of gates had to be opened to allow residents with the appropriate permits to pass through them. In reality, Attorney El-A’jou explains, the gates are open for a very short period of time, erratically, in some cases are not opened at all, are difficult to reach and do not allow resident’s to maintain their daily life. Various commitments by state agencies to ease the situation also proved useless especially as many of them are not even implemented. Take for example the promised opening of the gate three times a day for at least an hour in the village of Jayyus to allow the passage of agricultural workers to their fields, in reality there is no regularized opening of the gate and when it is open it is for a period of 15 to 20 minutes.
Attorney El-A’jou states in the petition that there is no possible justification for the complete paralysis of the civilian population’s daily life, and their imprisonment in enclaves that cut them off from their social and family ties, agricultural land, commercial centers, sources of livelihood, educational institutions, public services, and critical access to medical care, with the claim that it is the only effective balance that can be struck to address Israel’s security concerns. The IDF did not consider the level of the impact on the civilian population, especially when taking into account that the situation is permanent and not a passing phenomenon. As a result of the IDF policy of closing the gates, the villages have become like prisons with the IDF acting as prison guards who decide when and for how long to open the gates with no consideration whatsoever for the needs of the residents. These factors are also likely to increase the level of frustration, anger, poverty, unemployment, tension and hatred. The petition also notes that the army could achieve their aim of preventing the entry of individuals intending to carry out attacks, while at the same time minimizing the disruption of the local civilian population. The IDF policy on this issue takes the form of collective punishment, something that is prohibited by international law, and contradicts the army’s clear commitments made before the Supreme Court. Accordingly, the petition calls on the Supreme Court justices to order the IDF to open the gates along the full length of the separation barrier in such a way as to allow the regularized passage of residents through them with their vehicles and their agricultural equipment.
It should be noted that this petition is one of four that were submitted to the Supreme Court by ACRI to address the issue of the separation barrier. All the petitions are at various stages of consideration within the court system.