Deir al-Ghusun

Alex Weizmann, Micky Fischer (reporting), Mustafa ‘Amar (driving and translating) Translator: Charles K.

Beginning on 30.12.17 – the end of the official olive harvest season – it became harder to receive permits.  Fewer and fewer farmers are receiving them, most waiting more than two months for a response, and those that are granted are often valid only for two months.

11:00  Deir al Ghusun municipality

A brief meeting with B., in charge of coordinating the permit applications of village farmers and transmitting them to the Palestinian liaison office.

B. reports that on 30.12.17 he submitted some 130 applications from landowners and heirs, and as of today hasn’t received responses to most of them.  About 20 applications were denied – among the stated reasons was that the area of the plot was too small or that a tabu document in the name of the farmer, and not an inheritance order, was required.

Last week he submitted about 120 applications for the third time, and 65 more this week.  No response.

He says Eyal Salman, who’s in charge of the Tulkarm region, claims he made surprise visits to the area and didn’t find most of the farmers who’d gone that day through the agricultural checkpoint.  (Did he look in the right place?  Did he do a careful, intensive search?  Who knows.  But it’s a fact that those farmers have never been caught in Israel – “there’s nothing because there’s always been nothing” – however, there are sanctions in the form of permit denials.)

We suggested that B. choose a sample of ten applications from landowners and heirs and submit them to the Moked for the Defense of the Individual to see whether they can deal with any of them.

11:35  Agricultural checkpoint 623 – Deir al Ghusun

The checkpoint opened at 11:30.  From afar we saw some farmers who’d already gone to their lands.

The first two farmers coming out said the soldiers behaved well, and hurried on their way.

On the other hand, A., who was driving a tractor, said he has 80 dunams of olives on which, during this season, he had to carry out all the necessary work – plowing, spraying, clearing weeds, pruning, fertilizing, etc.  Until the end of the official harvest season he had workers whose permits expired on 30.12.17, but since then he’s been left to work his large groves by himself.  He said that since 31.12.17 he’s applied four times for three permits, but until today his applications have either been denied or received no response.

He says most of Deir al Ghusun’s farmers are in the same situation.  About 300 farmers would cross during the harvest season, but now only 50 have permits.

The morning is an additional problem.  The checkpoint opens at 06:30, though the farmers are already there at 06:00.  He says that on some days, like yesterday, the soldiers inspect permits slowly, don’t manage to admit all those with permits, and exactly at 07:00 close the gatesinfo-icon and don’t admit some permit holders.  About 20-30 are left on the Palestinian side of the fence, further reducing the agricultural labor force in the seam zone.  We asked him to notify us in real time while it occurs.  We also told him again about the Moked for the Defense of the Individual and provided their phone number in connection with the availability of workers.

12:10  ‘Athil agricultural checkpoint 609

About 20 farmers crossed. 

Two owners of large greenhouses approached us.

G. complains he received only 7 workers.  That’s enough for now, but when spring arrives he’ll need more.  He also says the permits for the new workers are valid for only two months; in the past they were valid for two years.  From his experience, and according to everyone involved, it takes more than a month to get the permit, so not only will he have to pay the fee every two months for new permits, he’s not sure he’ll get enough workers to pick the vegetables in the greenhouses.

A., another farmer, says the permits of his four workers expire in ten days and he still hasn’t received a response to his renewal applications.  He went to the Israeli DCL on Thursday to speak with Eyal Salman, who told him to come Sunday, but when he arrived on Sunday Eyal wasn’t there.  Yarden, the officer subordinate to Eyal, said she doesn’t have any authority to solve the problem.  The farmer anticipates being left without workers and seeing the vegetables spoil.  The farmers and workers say Dani Sandler, the head of the DCL, and Eyal Salman visited their greenhouses last month, and heard their complaints.  The head of the DCL promised to solve the problems and provide permits quickly, but according to them Eyal Salman, who’s in charge of Tulkarm, undermines any improvement, laughs at them and doesn’t tell them the truth.

13:30  Meeting with the head of the Deir el Ghusun municipality

We tried to understand what the municipality could do on behalf of the village farmers.  The head of the municipality says he has no authority in the matter, but the heads of ‘Athil, Deir al Ghusun and Jerushya initiated a meeting with the head of the Palestinian liaison office to consider how to address the problems.

We transmitted the request of the farmers to move the fence to the Green Line and return their lands to Palestine.  Such a request must be made directly to the Palestinian liaison office, or they must coordinate among themselves and submit it to the municipality.  He said that in the area of Baqa al Gharbiya and Nazlat Issa the fence had been moved because it had annexed Palestinian residents of the West Bank whose homes were in the seam zone.  He doesn’t think a request with respect to their area has much chance of success.  I’ll look into it with Hekel, an organization dealing with agricultural lands in Zeita on which a company from Rahat established a dump.  They have experience in these matters.