West Bank: Desperate Battle For A Permit To Work Their Own Land

West Bank - A month ago Mazooz Qadumi sent off the latest batch of applications from the residents of Jayyus for permission to gain access to their farmland in this fertile corner of the occupied West Bank. Delivered this morning was the reply from the Israeli military: two pages of names and scribbled comments.

Once again the message is bleak. This time, of the 32 people who asked for permission, only four received permits and those are only temporary, lasting as little as three months and effective only between dawn and dusk.

"I have to tell all these people they've been refused and there's nothing I can do about it. I just tell people not to give up and to try again," said Qadumi, who works at the Jayyus municipality. "And in the end if they cannot get to their land, their crops will die."

The permit regime is now an integral part of life in Jayyus. In July 2003 the Israeli authorities completed this stretch of their "security fence", which sliced through the heart of Jayyus, cutting off the village from its farmland and greenhouses. Where once Jayyus was a village of 13,000 dunams (1,300 hectares or 3,200 acres), it immediately placed 8,600 dunams, including the village's six groundwater wells, beyond the barrier, accessible only to the few with permits and then only through two gate - which each open for an hour three times a day. The village farmland beyond includes 12,000 olive trees and 25,000 fruit trees.

Israel insists the barrier is purely for security. "Obviously the barrier can create some difficulties for those who live there, whether Jews or Arabs, but we have to see human life as the number one priority and since it saves human life we find this important," said Arye Mekel, spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry. He added that the authorities were trying to reduce the instances where it disturbed people as much as possible.

One of those being disturbed by the barrier is Lutfiyah Khalid, a single woman in her late 40s. Although she has held a permit in the past, she has been refused three times, all on the grounds of "security" - no further details are ever given. Others are refused because the Israeli military deems they have "no connection to the land" or because it denies they have any farmland to the west of the barrier - again no details are given. There are 3,500 people in the village: only around 170 have permits.

"I really can't explain what they're trying to achieve by doing this," she said. "It is occupation in the true sense of the word and of course it also affects us economically - we were living from this land once."

Her family owns 30 dunams of land on the western side of the barrier, planted with olive trees, guava and with large greenhouses for tomatoes and cucumbers. Khalid is one of five sisters and brothers but from her family only two have permits to reach the land: her mother, who at the age of 70 is too frail to work, and one brother. Already the family has had to sell one of its greenhouses, at a loss of several thousand pounds, because they couldn't maintain the crops. "It's a policy of confiscating our land and pushing us to migrate away," she said. "But the harder they make it, the more we will stay."

"It's a psychological war," added Qadumi.

The path of the barrier also allows room for the expansion of Zufin, a Jewish settlement established in 1989 on the traditional land of Jayyus. The jurisdictional area of Zufin is already 10 times larger than its current built-up area. Israeli human rights groups, including B'Tselem and Bimkom, have argued that the "primary consideration" for the path of the barrier around Jayyus was not security but to leave room for settlement expansion.

After a long legal battle, Israel's high court has ordered a revision to the route of the barrier, but it is thought likely that 6,000 dunams of Jayyus's land will remain on the "Israeli" side and that Zufin will indeed be allowed to grow into that land. It is a pattern being repeated along the length of the barrier and, using laws dating back to the British mandate, Israeli authorities claim the right to confiscate land that goes uncultivated for more than three years. Palestinians fear if they cannot reach their land they will lose it forever.

Often it is the bureaucracy of the occupation that is most challenging. It takes six documents for a permit: a copy of an Israeli-issued identity card; a copy of the previous permit; a document certifying inheritance of the land; court-approved proof from the municipality that the land has not been sold; a map of the land; and a valid Tabu or Ikhraj Qayd, the original land ownership document dating back to Ottoman or Jordanian times. It is not always enough.

Shareef Omar, 65, has around 190 dunams of land west of the barrier. He has a three-month permit, which runs out in July and it may not be renewed - for several months last year his permit applications were rejected. None of his three sons have permits, nor does his grandson. Omar inherited the land from his father but because of differences between Jordanian and Israeli styles of registering names it is likely that it will be impossible to satisfy the Israeli military that the land should eventually pass through his sons to his oldest grandson. It is an increasingly common problem.

"What happens to this farm then?" asked Omar. "This question really makes me worry about the future. After all this time they keep finding new ways to deprive us of our permits," he said.

"If Jayyus loses more than 70% of its land this means you ask the Jayyus people to emigrate and get out of the village because you can't continue," Omar said. "If we lose this land and these farms how can we resist? How can we survive? How can we go on? And they talk about peace?"

(c) 2008 The Guardian

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