The Palestine Youth Orchestra. Courtesy of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music

Opinion So Ordered the Israeli Army: The Trumpeter and Violinist Can't Leave Gaza for the West Bank

Israel's High Court agreed to prevent the two 16-year-old musicians with Russian citizenship from leaving: 'It should be noted that the musical development is not necessarily dependent on location'

The youth orchestra was invited to give several concerts at home and abroad, in addition to its participation in an international enrichment workshop. Think about the children’s excitement in anticipation of the trip, and the opportunity to enrich their experience and to learn. Think about the parents bursting with pride. The problem is that the above-mentioned youth orchestra is Palestinian.

In fact, there’s no problem at all. It’s entirely natural for Palestinian children to play and sing and perform in concerts. Music education centers are flourishing on the West Bank and in Gaza. One of them is the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, which has branches in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. And now its youth orchestra was invited to a study workshop in Jordan, and is also scheduled to play in Amman, Ramallah and Nablus. Two of the players, a violinist and a trumpeter, are from Gaza. They’re 16 years old. Incidentally, both have Russian citizenship, because their mothers are Russian.

So where’s the problem? Let’s try to put it delicately. A cohort of people, control addicts enamored of their power, are sitting in the offices in the Kirya Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv (the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, COGAT), and at the Erez checkpoint (the Coordination and Liaison Administration, CLA). This cohort decided that letting a trumpeter and violinist, both 16, to leave the Gaza Strip does not meet the criteria that were handed down on Mount Sinai – excuse me, that were drawn up by COGAT (because thus the Lord commanded: “No Gazans are allowed to leave”).

The Lord’s deputies in the Kirya, and the deputies’ deputies at Erez, are practiced at permitting a crossing in exceptional cases (and even then, not always): the seriously ill, the dying, first-degree relatives of the dying or dead, people getting married, their first-degree relatives, collaborators, merchants, employees of international organizations and so forth.

The Gaza CLA ombudswoman is the signatory to a standard reply to the two young musicians, copied and pasted from thousands of other replies: “After examining the request, the authorized entities have decided to reject it, because it does not meet the criteria, as determined from time to time, in accordance with the diplomatic-security situation.” The officer was only following the orders of her superiors, from Lt. Col. Moshe Tetro, head of the CLA operations division; to CLA Gaza legal adviser 1st Lt. Guy Shekel; to the head of the CLA, Col. Fares Attila, and all the way to the top, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai.

Part of the power of these Lord’s deputies is to permit an exit one day and deny it another day. Even to the same person. For example, the trumpeter recently got an exit permit from Gaza for the Christian holidays. He and the violinist were also permitted in the past to play with their conservatory on the West Bank and abroad.

Part of the deputies’ power lies in their ability to show flexibility, at times. For example, after the two musicians were forbidden on July 16 to exit via Israel for the West Bank and Jordan, the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement petitioned the High Court on their behalf. In a preliminary response to the petition, the State Prosecutor’s Office partially revoked the ban, announcing that the two musicians were permitted to go to Jordan – but not to Ramallah, God forbid.

State: 'Foreign nationals have no right to enter Israel'

Attorney Liron Hopfeld, first assistant in the state prosecution’s High Court division, has done the copy-and-paste from innumerable other government responses, and wrote in hers: “The starting point for our discussion is that the petitioners, residents of the Gaza Strip, like any foreign national, have no legal right to enter Israel for any purpose.”

Note: These “foreign nationals,” like the other Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, are obligated to register in the Population Registry of Israel’s Interior Ministry. That is how it has been since 1967. Their ID cards are almost identical to those of an Israeli. Is there another case where people exist, bureaucratically speaking, only if the officials of a “neighboring foreign country” approve the details of their identity?

The two young musicians, with the help of attorney Moran Gur of Gisha, still hoped that the High Court would explain the absurdity of the situation to the state. Suhail Khoury, founder and director of the music conservatory, told the justices that these two young musicians reached an internationally high level, for which they have worked hard. They deserve the opportunity to develop, he said, and they deserve hope. Hopfeld herself, of the State Prosecutor’s Office, admitted in court that there is no security-related complaint against them.

In their ruling on July 27, justices Hanan Melcer, Menachem Mazuz and Noam Sohlberg wrote: “We found that the petitioners have no legal reason for which this court should intervene in the decisions of the respondents, especially in light of the fact that the respondents granted permission beyond the letter of the law for the petitioners’ participation in the part of the project held in Jordan, and it should be noted that the musical development of which Mr. Suhail [sic] spoke is not necessarily dependent on location.” It was as though they had written: “Have the Palestinians gone crazy? To want what we Jews give our children and grandchildren?”

On August 1 the two teenagers left straight for Jordan via the al-Karamah border crossing (Allenby Bridge). On August 10, when they cross the border on the way back with their fellow orchestra members, they will travel directly to Gaza, barred from performing in Ramallah and Nablus.

There’s nothing mysterious or obscure about the malice of COGAT, CLA and the High Court: They’re only following orders, which are to sever Palestinians in Gaza from those in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), to destroy the natural connections between them. Israel’s clear objective, which is gradually being realized, is to turn the Gaza Strip into a separate entity.

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