A visit in the municipalities of Qafin, Zeta and Deir al-Ghusun

Observers: 
Miki Fisher, Yael Sadan (reporting); Translator:  Charles K.
Aug-28-2017
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Afternoon

We met with municipal employees to learn what’s happening regarding work permits in the seam zone.

08:00  Meeting with G. Tomeh, head of the Qafin municipality, and A., the council member responsible for health matters and permits.

They say that since the Palestinian DCL strike ended in May, 350 work permit applications for the seam zone were submitted.  Only 13 were approved in July and 10 more in August.

Most of the other applications were denied because, unlike in the past, it isn’t enough to present a document showing the land was inherited from parents who owned the land; now heirs need a land registry (tabu) document showing they are the owners.

That requirement makes it significantly more difficult to obtain a permit – if, up to now, the Israeli DCL approved applications accompanied by inheritance orders listing the names of the sons and daughters, since May that’s no longer the case.  The heirs listed must transfer ownership of the land to themselves at the offices of the Civil Administration in Qedumim, a procedure that costs about NIS 10,000 (attorney’s fees and fee for transferring ownership), and takes about a year.

The result is that many farmers and their immediate relatives, who until now had worked the family land because the original landowner had died, are no longer able to obtain permits, and the number of farmers working the plots is gradually decreasing, and there are even plots which have no one to cultivate them because all the permits relating to them have expired.

While we were there, the head of the Qafin municipality telephoned Nahia, at the Moked for the Defense of the Individual, and was told that sons and daughters of deceased landowners may obtain permits on the basis of inheritance orders and they don’t have to obtain tabu documents in their own name, but they have to file a complaint personally with the Moked, which handles cases on an individual basis.

An additional conversation with Irit, from the Moked, later in the week confirmed this, but she noted that if the sons and daughters who are the heirs seek permits for their own children – the grandchildren of the original landowners who died – they must write on their application “agricultural work in the seam zone,” and not “farmer in the seam zone” (the Israeli bureaucracy doesn’t recognize the family connection!).  She stressed that the Moked can act only if the denial of the application comes from the Israeli DCL.  If the application is returned by the Palestinian liaison office accompanied by a request that  tabu documents instead of an inheritance order be provided, without the request having been sent to the Israeli DCL, they’re unable to act.

The head of the municipality added that permits should be issued valid for one or two years, not for a few days.  It is very important that the permits arrive within three weeks because of the upcoming olive harvest.

We tried to determine what farmers who received permits had in common.  It turned out that tabu permits have to be renewed at least every two years, so that applications which included tabu documents from 2015-2016 were not approved.  Everyone who received a permit had renewed their tabu registration in 2017, though it’s expensive -  NIS 500 (NIS 300 for the renewal and NIS 200 travel to Qedumim).

10:00  Meeting with M., the head of the Zeita municipality, the deputy mayor and the secretary.

More than 100 permit renewal applications have been submitted.  Only a few have been approved.  Most were denied.  More than 70 farmers with land in the seam zone who had received permits since the fence was erected in 2003 had their applications denied and the forms returned stating: The land is outside the seam zone.

The council members claim that some of the 70 hadn’t managed to mark their land during the registration period prior to the erection of the fence, so they had to hire a surveyor to do so.  But it was difficult to bring the surveyors because they often didn’t receive a permit or it was granted for only a single day, on which the few available surveyors were unable to come.  The council members said they’d apply to the Palestinian liaison office for a longer-term permit for a surveyor so that he can do the work for all the farmers whose applications were denied.

But they also told of the difficulties they anticipate, because of two experiences:

A farmer whose application had been denied a year ago hired a surveyor and provided a map confirming his land was located in the seam zone and submitted another permit application six months ago for himself and his workers.  The workers received permits but the landowner was refused again; his land, it was claimed, was outside the seam zone.  The Moked is dealing with the matter. Three heirs – two women and a grandson – applied for permits.  Only the grandson was approved; the daughters of the landowner were denied, the excuse being that the land wasn’t in the seam zone.

They also told us about the difficulty faced by another farmer – he’d bought land in the seam zone ten years ago from a farmer, with a formal contract, but didn’t register ownership in Qedumim because of the cost of registration, which is set by an Israeli adjustor and was equal to the cost of the land and he didn’t have the money.  For ten years this farmer had received a permit to access his land, but last year his applications were denied.

11:30  We met B., the official in charge of applications from Deir el-Ghusun.

As in Qafin, he complained that applications with inheritance orders are being returned, the heirs being required to register the land in the tabu.  He asked us to look into the matter, and gave us copies of a number of applications.

He also noted that the problem of leaseholders hasn’t been resolved – their applications are still being denied despite what the regulations state, nor are permits available for workers.  Only two farmers who own greenhouses received permits for their workers.

All these problems are very perplexing and require careful investigation to prevent their occurrence and their consequences when farmers are unable to access their land in the seam zone and cultivate it for their livelihood and preserve their right to it.