'IDF can't block Palestinian lands'

Court: Army can't bar farmers from their land because of threat from settlers.

jordan valley 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
jordan valley 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The High Court of Justice on Monday ruled that the army may not prohibit Palestinian farmers from entering their lands to protect them from the possibility of attack by Jewish settlers, but must grant them access at all times while actively protecting them. The decision was handed down in response to a petition submitted by the heads of five Palestinian villages, Yanoun, Inabus, Burin, A-Twaini and A-Janiya, and two human rights groups, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Rabbis for Human Rights. The petition was submitted in the fall of 2004, after Palestinian olive harvesters were prevented by the army from picking their olives because extremist settlers were routinely attacking them. The army granted each village a few days of protection to enable the farmers to harvest their olives according to a rigid schedule, but the petitioners argued that the army was obliged to protect the farmers so that they could attend to their fields and orchards every day of the year. The unanimous decision was handed down by Supreme Court Justices Dorit Beinisch, Eliezer Rivlin and Salim Joubran. In the main ruling, Beinisch wrote, "The closed-off areas are privately owned by Palestinians whose sustenance is dependent on having access to them. On the other hand, the threat to their safety is from attacks by Israeli law-breakers. In these circumstances, the closing off of these areas to the Palestinian farmers to cope with the above threat is illogical, for we are talking about an unfair measure to the extreme degree. The consequence of this policy is to deal a severe blow to the basic rights [of the farmers] and, at the same time, surrender to violence and criminal acts. "The proper thing to do is to apply the appropriate measures against the threatening factor, that is, against those who attack the Palestinian farmers. In defending them, the military commander chose to act against them again, for they were already the victims of the attacks." Beinisch added that the only circumstances in which the army was justified in closing off privately owned Palestinian land was when it feared that terrorists would use the freedom of access to it to attack nearby Jewish settlements. Even in this situation, however, the measure had to be proportional. She believed that it was, given the army's promise that even in such circumstances, the closure would be for a limited time, the area closed off would be no more farther than 50 to 300 meters from the settlement and that the measure would only be used when absolutely necessary. Beinisch also accepted the second part of the petition, in which the petitioners charged that the army was ineffective in preventing attacks against Palestinians and acts of vandalism against their property. She said the court had delayed handing down its decision on the matter in the hope that matters would improve, but they had not. "The petition has shown the helplessness of the authorities in enforcing the law against those who break it and cause injury to Palestinian farmers and their property," wrote Beinisch. "The physical safety of the farmers is in genuine danger when they go off to work in their fields because of acts of severe violence by Israeli settlers. Their property is also unprotected when, after they finish their day's work, under cover of darkness, the law-breakers return to the fields to cut down trees and sabotage farm equipment." Beinisch added that she did not doubt the sincere intentions of the government to put an end to this situation, but the fact was that it had not succeeded in doing so.