In 2002, the Government of Israel approved construction of a Barrier in and around the West Bank with the stated purpose of preventing violent attacks by Palestinians in Israel. Land for construction of Barrier sections inside the West Bank has been requisitioned from Palestinian landowners. Approximately 65.3 per cent (465km) of the projected 712-kilometre-long structure has been completed, of which 85 per cent runs inside the West Bank. The Barrier impedes access to services and resources, disrupts family and social life, undermines livelihoods and compounds the fragmentation of the occupied Palestinian territory. On 9 July 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an Advisory Opinion which recognized that Israel faced “indiscriminate and deadly acts of violence” but at the same time stated that the part of the Barrier which runs inside the West Bank, together with the associated gate and permit regime, violates Israel’s obligations under international law and should be dismantled.
To contain the spread of COVID-19, governments around the world have imposed sweeping restrictions on the freedom of movement of people, severely disrupting their lives. While the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) is no exception, with measures being imposed by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, these have served to exacerbate longstanding access restrictions that are imposed by the Israeli authorities.
Akkaba, (population 345), is a village in the Tulkarm governorate in the northern West Bank. About 88 per cent of the community’s 2,200 dunums of land is located in the closed area between the Barrier and the Green Line, the “Seam Zone”. In 2002, following a wave of Palestinian attacks, including suicide bombings, Israel began building the Barrier with the stated aim of preventing these attacks. The vast majority of the Barrier’s route is located within the West Bank, isolating Palestinian communities and farming land, and contributing to the fragmentation of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).
We are following with sadness today the Israeli authorities’ destruction of homes in the Palestinian community of Sur Bahir. Initial information emerging from the community indicates that hundreds of Israeli forces entered the community this morning and have demolished a number of residential buildings, including inhabited homes, located in Areas A, B and C of the West Bank on the East Jerusalem side of the Barrier. The large-scale operation began in the early hours of this morning while it was still dark, forcing families out of their homes, and causing great distress among residents. Among those forcibly displaced or otherwise impacted are Palestine refugees, some of whom today are facing the reality of a second displacement in living memory.
Houses to be demolished in Sur Bahir because of proximity to the Barrier: Sur Bahir (pop. 24,000) is a Palestinian neighbourhood in the south east of Jerusalem. Most of Sur Bahir is located within the unilaterally-annexed East Jerusalem municipal area, but the community reports that they own some 4,000 dunums of land in Area A and B and C, as designated under the Oslo Accords. Uniquely, the Barrier has been routed around Sur Bahir so that parts of Area A, B and C fall on the ‘Jerusalem’ side. The residents’ local committee estimates that some 6,000 people, or a quarter of the population, currently live in these Oslo-defined areas. Despite this, these areas have not been incorporated within the municipal boundary, although they are now physically separated from the remainder of the West Bank. In practice, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is unable to access or deliver services to Area A and B in Sur Bahir, although they still issue building permits in these areas, as they have been authorized to do under the Oslo Accords.
Recent findings indicate a significant decline in the number of permits issued by the Israeli authorities for Palestinian farmers and workers to access their land in the West Bank behind the Barrier. According to official data obtained by the Israeli organization HaMoked, the approval rate for permits for landowners fell from 76 per cent of applications in 2014 to 28 per cent in 2018 (up to 25 November). Permits issued to agricultural workers declined from 70 per cent and 50 per cent of applications in the same period
The 2018 olive harvest season will last approximately from mid-September to mid-November. However, a pest that infects olive trees, particularly in the norther West Bank, is expected to significantly reduce this year’s yield compared with 2017 (see box). In recent years, the olive harvest has also been affected negatively by Israeli settlers stealing or damaging olive trees, and by restrictions on access by Palestinian farmers to olive groves behind the Barrier and near Israeli settlements.