A visit to Masha and a letter to the Legal Advisor

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Micky Fisher, Miriam Shayish (reporting), Anthia, Aviva; Translator: Charles K.

                                16 December 2010

Col. Eli Bar-On
Legal Advisor, Judea and Samaria Region

Dear Col. Bar-On,

We are writing you following complaints from the local council of the village of Masha and from its inhabitants regarding harm to the fabric of their lives, and to their livelihoods which depend on their olive groves in the seam zone.  There are two fundamental issues which are but the tip of the iceberg representing many other problems created as a result of their lands being imprisoned in the seam zone.

A.  Refusal to open“Hani’s gate” (named after the isolated house belonging to Hani, a Mahsa resident, that remains in the seam zone) so people can access lands in the seam zone:

This gate has been open to farmers with land in the seam zone during the three years since the fence was erected in 2004/5, and in this period farmers crossed with permits or had their ID numbers recorded at the agricultural gate.

About two years ago farmers with land near this gate were no longer permitted to cross through it, and were required to use the northern Masha gate – Gate 1534.

Unfortunately, that gate is more than three kilometers from the lands of many of the villagers, and to reach them they must walk through difficult rocky terrain, cross a hill and then a wadi in order to get to their lands near Hani Gate.

During last year’s olive harvest, in 2009, the farmers were unable to take their younger children to assist them because of the distance and difficulty walking, driving agricultural equipment or even riding on donkeys, which weren’t able to get through, and they were forced to carry the sacks of harvested olives on their shoulders to the distant northern gate.

But their nightmare didn’t end there.  During this past year, 2010, a new neighborhood of the settlement of Etz Efraim has been under construction in the seam zone, adjacent to the Masha farmers’ olive groves.  A ditch has been dug between the wadi and the  construction site, making it impossible for farmers with lands near Hani Gate to reach it, and therefore they have no way to get to their land and harvest this year’s olives.

Their request to access their land by using the security road, with an escort, was not granted.

Thus, this year’s harvest in that area was lost, and the landowners’ livelihoods harmed.

Here are two cases of farmers who suffered from these restrictions:

Salah Muhammad Othman A’amer, ID No. 956715239.  His family owns 25 dunums adjacent to Hani Gate, but not one of his family members who received a permit for Gate 1534 could reach the family’s land through that gate in order to harvest the olives.

Eid Abed Aljafar Muhammad A’amer, ID No. 99881774.  His family owns 32 dunums.  After complaining that he was unable to reach his land, he received a permit for the southern Azzun Atma gate, but he wasn’t able to reach his land from there either and had to go through the settlement of Elkana.

We should note that one day, at the beginning of the olive harvest season, the army opened Hani Gate to the farmers, but ten minutes later a member of the Elkana security staff drove up and announced he would not permit people to access their land.  Military personnel that were present forced the farmers to return from whence they came.

During the harvest, moreover, when the problem at this gate became known, people approached the women of Machsom Watch, who immediately contacted the DCO officers, but were told by them to go through the Palestinian liason office.

The Palestinian liason office did, in fact, submit an updated list of farmers with land adjacent to the gate, and of their family members, but all its requests on behalf of the residents to open that gate were immediately and repeatedly denied.  At the time of the final request they were told there were no longer any olives - they had apparently been stolen - so there was no longer any point in dealing with the issue.

B.  Another serious problem is the fact that the gatesinfo-icon to the village of Masha are seasonal, even though the village farmers own 2000 dunums of olive groves that are locked in the seam zone.

In additional villages such as Deir Al Gatzun, Zawiyya and others the gates are open year-round and farmers can access their groves daily and carry out all the work that has to be done during the different seasons of the year.  In other villages, like Qafin, the agricultural gate is open a few times a week, but in Masha, on the other hand, the agricultural gate has been defined as “seasonal,” so the farmers can’t take care of their groves as they require, which harms their lives and their livelihoods, and leaves them vulnerable to additional damage, of persons coming from the Israeli side and harming them either by stealing the crops, as occurred this year, or by trespassing and bulldozing paths through their fields.

We expect immediate action to solve these problems so the army and the state of Israel will adhere to their commitment to maintain the farmers’ way of life, as it promised to do at every opportunity and in every document published when the fence was erected.