The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Amira Hass: Fooling the High Court of Justice and the Hague

The legalistic deception of the Israeli Civil Administration: “It is all Israel”

Amira Hass, Haaretz, 13 July 2005

Listen to the soldier in the field. He says what his commanders were trained to cover up and embellish. Listen to the red-headed soldier, who prevented residents of Qafin from passing through the gate in the separation fence last month to get to their lands. These are 5,000 out of 8,200 dunams of agricultural land in a village in the northwestern West Bank. These are lands belonging to the families of these residents for several generations, and for so-called security reasons they were separated from the village – as has happened, and will happen, with hundreds of other Palestinian villages.

Several residents have Civil Administration permits allowing them to pass through the closed gate. Signed permits serve as written proof – intended for the High Court of Justice, and indirectly for the world court at The Hague – that the security establishment and the state are keeping their promises, whereby the security fence does not keep farmers away from their land, that it is “measured.” This could be used as evidence in a future international court that will clean out the entire system: the commanders, the politicians, the judges. A written document is better evidence than the undocumented long hours during which people waited for nothing outside the gate, under the beating sun.

But the soldier knows better, because he’s in the field, and he doesn’t lie: These permits don’t obligate the army, he said (and the Civil Administration confirmed this, when asked), because this gate is only for the olive harvest season. That is, the autumn – but now it’s summer. Since the gate near their land is closed, there’s no chance that the Qafin farmers can pass through to plant 7,500 olive saplings received as a donation, to replace the 12,000 trees destroyed by the fence. Since the gate near! their l and is closed, when fires break out they can’t get there quickly and save the groves their grandfathers planted. And since the gate is closed, they are unable to plant wheat, okra or corn between the groves to slightly improve the nutrition of their families, which are trapped in a cycle of poverty and unemployment.

But the red-headed soldier didn’t discuss only the gate. He didn’t hide the geopolitical worldview in whose name he is commanded to safeguard the gate’s welfare. “There is no entry to Israel from here,” he said. When he was told that the farmers don’t want to enter Israel, but to walk 200 meters to get to their age-old lands, a few kilometers away from the Green Line, he responded: “To be politically correct, it is all Israel.”

How right the soldier is. From his standpoint, on the security road that links up with bypass roads for Jews only, which in turn link up with settlements and Israel proper, this is what he and his colleagues watch every day: The space called “Israel,” from the river to the sea, containing all kinds of “crowded population concentrations” surrounded by fences and imprisoned behind locked gates.

It’s not only one locked gate that separates the farmers of Qafin from their lands. Another locked gate in the separation fence, in the north of the village, also divides them from their lands. And there’s a third gate open only to those who have permits, but it involves its own tricks to ensure that the residents of Qafin won’t really be able to work their lands. It’s 12 kilometers away from the center of the village and is located in what’s called the Reihan terminal, which cuts off and isolates some of the northwestern West Bank villages from other parts of the West Bank. In other words, it costs money no one has to get to this gate, which is between four and eight kilometers away from village lands. Residents aren’t allowed to get to the lands by car or donkey. They are not allowed to take tools or saplings. In short, it’s a hike of several hours, so as to! cry ove r the neglected land. This is the nature of “the access to the land” that the security establishment promises the High Court justices, who believe what they are told.

The tricks don’t end here. Out of 1,050 people who submitted requests to the Civil Administration to be allowed to get to their lands, only a minority received the permits (the residents put the number at 70; as of June, and the Civil Administration says 206). Hundreds were refused because the Civil Administration officials decided the residents were “distant relatives” of the people under whose name the land is registered. Several sons and grandsons of landowners were denied permits because they were considered “distant relatives.” In one case, a permit was given to a man but not his wife; in another, only the elderly wife was granted permission to go on the long journey, alone, to the family land.

The residents of Qafin have come to one conclusion: The goal is to bring about the neglect of their green agricultural lands until they become wilderness. Then Israel can rely on an old Ottoman law that allows neglected and abandoned land to become public property, in order to make the wilderness bloom. In Israel, as every soldier knows, the “public” is the same as the “Jews.” And so will the mistake of 1948 be rectified. At that time, some 18,000 dunams from Qafin became part of Israel, became Jewish land. Now it will happen to an additional 5,000 dunams.