HCJ 6949/19, Head of Qaryut Council et al. vs. Commander of IDF Forces in the West Bank

Date of submission: Oct. 22th, 2019


With the olive harvest season of 2019 in the background, Yesh Din submitted an urgent petition to the High Court, with the head of the village council of Qaryut and five landowners from the village, against the commander of IDF forces in the West Bank (the commander of Central Command). The petition demands that the army allow farmers from Qaryut reach their lands and harvest their olives safely.

The petition was submitted following several incidents in which farmers arrived at their lands to harvest – in areas that don’t require coordination in area B, but the army banished them and did not allow them to harvest.

In the petition we asked the High Court to instruct the commander of IDF Forces in the West Bank (the commander of Central Command) the following:

-To instruct the forces under his command to refrain from any interruption of the harvest conducted by the petitioners and the members of their community within the vicinity of Qaryut in the north of the West Bank; and to refrain in general, him and his subordinates, over the whole harvest season, from issuing an order of closed military zone directed at the petitioners and other landowners in their village, their families and guests; and to refrain from denying their access in any practical way, even without a formal order.

-To take all measures he has in his power to enable harvest and protect the harvesters so that they will be able to cultivate their land safely.

The olive harvest season started about a week and a half before the petition was submitted. During that time a military force arrived at Qaryut’s agricultural lands almost every morning, in some cases accompanied by settlers from the nearby settlement of Eli and, by force or with various excuses, kept away the landowners who came to harvest. Yesh Din documented eight such cases that took place in the scope of five days. On the 6th day – Oct. 23rd, 2019 – Qaryut’s farmers did not go out to their land at all from fear of military violence.

Keeping harvesters away was executed through the use of violent measures such as tear gas and stun grenades. Preventing Palestinian landowners from harvesting their trees is against the law and stands directly against the clear ruling of Israel’s High Court of Justice with regard to the army’s duties towards Palestinian farmers during the olive harvest.

The urgent petition was submitted in light of the de-facto prevention and the blanket ban against the petitioners, denying them access to their lands, and in light of a real risk that the petitioners and other families in the village will not have enough time to harvest and collect their annual crop, and the fear that if this policy will not be changed immediately this year’s harvest will be lost.

In response to the petition, the State informed the High Court that “due to an error, which the respondent regrets, access of landowners from the village Qaryut to their land nearby (hereinafter: ‘the land in question’)  during the olive harvest was limited. This due to a mistake which caused representatives of the respondent who were present on site to believe the petitioners were required to coordinated access to the land in question. As soon as the mistake was discovered, it was corrected and the landowners were allowed unrestricted access to their lands. According to information the respondent holds, the petitioners have indeed accessed the land in question.”

The response also stated that, due to the filing of the petition, it was decided that in the future the Civil Administration will publish all declarations of land closures for the purposes of the olive harvesting season on COGAT’s website. When prepararing for the harvest in years to come, the orders should be available in advance on said website.

Due to the State’s response and the fact that the petitioners were allowed to carry out the harvest on the lands in question, thus satisfying the demands of the petition, the parties agreed to delete the petition. In a request on behalf of the petitioners to delete the petition the office of Adv. Michael Sfard wrote: ““Blessed is the believer. Blessed are those who believe this was mere human error. As stated in the affidavits attached to the petition, the soldiers who expelled the Palestinian harvesters from their lands did not tell them that this was an area requiring coordination; they did not make it clear that they could return another day, and never presented any military closure order. Mostly they came accompanied by settlers from the nearby settlement of Eli, a number of times even telling harvesters there is no harvest during the Jewish holidays, proceeding to ‘persuade’ harvesters to leave by using stun grenades and tear gas. This is the behavior of those who have no respect for the landowners, not those seeking to ‘coordinate’ safe access to the land.”

The Court accepted the request to delete the petition and ruled that the State shall reimburse expenses to the petitioners.

Petition status: deleted.