Israel’s fence/wall through the occupied West Bank cutting off Palestinians from their farmland, and the settlements that take over even more lands, are ongoing violations of international law, Amnesty International said today as US President Barack Obama continued his first presidential trip to the region.
The organization has learnt that, in the last few days, Palestinian farmers in the northern West Bank village of Jayyus, who for years have had trouble accessing their land through the military fence/wall (which in this area takes the form of an electrified and heavily guarded fence), are now faced with Israeli settlers setting up additional obstacles.
The settlers have installed a caravan outpost to the north of the Israeli settlement Tsufim on the farmers' land in an apparent reaction to the military finally starting to act on a 2009 Israeli High Court of Justice ruling that the fence should be re-routed in order to return some of the land to the farmers.
"Settlers obstructing the re-routing of the military fence, because it gives a fraction of the Palestinian farmers' land back to them and frustrates the settlers' own plans for settlement expansion is just outrageous," said Ann Harrison, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme.
"International law demands the fence/wall and the settlements be removed from the Occupied Palestinian Territories but the reality on the ground is so distant from that, that it feels as though bulldozers have been driven straight through the Geneva Conventions and the International Court of Justice.
"President Obama has talked tough about halting the Israeli settlement project. During his visit to the region he has the perfect opportunity to go to Jayyus and see for himself the consequences of these ongoing violations of international law."
On Sunday 17 March, youths, men and women who appeared to be settlers staged a demonstration next to one of the Jayyus farmers' access gates in the military fence. They imitated Palestinian anti-wall demonstrations, blocking the farmers' access for a few hours.
The settlers oppose the High Court ruling because they see that the Palestinians are being handed back land previously earmarked by the Israeli government for Israeli settlement expansion.
The Jayyus farmers are looking forward to seeing 2.4 square kilometres of their land returned but are dismayed at the widespread damage to the fertile agricultural land that they depend on for their livelihoods, as the new route of the fence is being built.
And even after the change to the route of the electrified and heavily guarded fence, 5 square kilometres of Jayyus land - well over half - will be left inaccessible.
"Even if the settler caravans are removed and the military fence/wall is re-routed, this will fall short of the requirements of international law," said Harrison.
"The International Court of Justice said that where the military wall encroaches on the Occupied Palestinian Territories it is illegal and should be removed. It said that those who suffered damages as a result of the wall are entitled to reparations. What is also clear under international law is that Israeli settlements are illegal and should be removed."
While the fence/wall was being constructed in the area, the Israeli army promised to allow the villagers free access to their land. Immediately after the fence/wall was constructed, permits were granted to most farmers. However, the army soon began refusing to renew the permits of a growing number of farmers, depriving them and their families of their livelihood.
Jayyus is an agricultural community of 3500 inhabitants, all of whom rely directly or indirectly on farming for their livelihoods. According to the estimates of the municipality of Jayyus, less than half of Jayyus farmers now have permits to access their land.
The settlement of Tsufim lies to the west, one of more than 130 settlements housing over half a million Israelis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which cause the violation of a range of Palestinian human rights including the rights to be free from discrimination and to an adequate standard of living.