In a letter sent at the end of September, our attorneys Roni Pelli and Michael Sfard warned the Legal Advisor of Judea and Samaria, Col. Doron Ben Barak, that the IDF forces continue to evade their obligation to protect farmers in the village of Beit Furik and the area. The letter, sent several days before the olive harvest began, demanded the IDF adequately protect the villagers during the harvest.
As it is the occupying force in the West Bank, and as the Palestinian residents are protected civilians according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the IDF has a clear duty to protect them. In the case of Rasher Murad, Supreme Court Justice Beinisch wrote:
“There is, therefore, no doubt that the respondents must employ all measures at their disposal to protect the Palestinian farmers who come to work their land. They must also protect the appellants’ property rights and ensure they are not subjected to harm. Although this Court cannot determine the scope of forces or the operational actions necessary for such missions, we do have the right to say that protecting the security and property of the local residents is one of the most basic duties of the military commander in situ.”
And yet, the IDF fails this basic duty time and again. In 2011, we appealed to the HCJ on behalf of the Beit Furik village council, demanding the IDF protect the farmers when they access their land. The Court ruled that the farmers must be allowed to access the majority of their land without hindrance all year round, with an exception of a narrow strip, circling what is termed the “Gideons’ Outposts.” Access to this strip is allowed all year round, subject to coordination with the IDF forces. This agreement was granted the status of a ruling.
However, at a meeting held by Yesh Din representatives with residents of Beit Furik at the end of September, we learned that many residents are afraid to access and work on their land, due to threats and previous cases of violence in the area.
Residents who coordinate with the IDF in order to access their land complained that they still encounter violent attacks by Israeli civilians. Israeli citizens also steal the farmers’ harvest and damage their trees. Coordinating with the IDF takes time, and even when the Israeli civilians have not harvested all of the village’s trees, the villagers are only permitted to access their lands for two days to harvest their olives between 7 am and 1 pm. Furthermore, the forces providing security for the farmers are insufficient in number, and farmers working on plots far from security forces are attacked by Israeli civilians despite the army’s alleged protection.
Furthermore, many farmers who are entitled to reach their land without coordination do not dare to venture out. Several farmers reported assaults and threats by Israeli civilians, as well as recurring theft of fruit and farming equipment. As a result, threats, property crimes and violent crimes committed by Israeli civilians, which the IDF fails to prevent or perhaps is not trying to, are causing the residents of Beit Furik to abandon their lands. In several instances, the farmers do not even know what the state of their land is; untended crops, as a rule, wither away.
Two years after the HCJ’s ruling on the right of the farmers of Beit Furik to return to their lands, from which they were unlawfully expelled, the IDF – the sovereign in the West Bank – is failing to adequately protect the land owners. As described in Yesh Din’s report, The Road to Dispossession, this is no accident – it’s policy.