The Supreme Court justice's response to the legal claim that Israel effectively has control over the Gaza Strip contained a mocking note. This is what transpires, at all events, from a short report in the Hebrew edition of the Haaretz of December 12, in reference to a petition against the pinpoint assassinations policy.
Attorney Michael Sfard claimed that Israel has "effective control" in the Strip, even though it does not have a physical presence on the ground there. Justice Mishael Cheshin is quoted as saying that "perhaps we also have effective control in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and wherever it is that the cannons fire."
It is therefore perhaps worthwhile reminding the honorable justice that the residents of Lebanon, Egypt and Syria do not have to be included in the Israeli population registry in order to hold the documents necessary for a person to conduct his life in the modern world. The Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip and West Bank have to be registered with the population registry in the Israeli Interior Ministry. The parents of babies born in the countries neighboring on Israel do not send their birth certificates to be updated in the Israeli Interior Ministry's computer system. But the parents of Palestinian babies must do so lest their children reach the age of 16 and are not granted an ID card because the all-powerful computer, the one in the Israeli Interior Ministry, will not recognize their existence.
Births, deaths and marriages are all entered into the Israeli computer, and only in that way do they get a seal of approval. The details of every Palestinian born in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank appear on the ministry's computer, and can be seen on a screen by the lowest-ranking soldier at the most remote checkpoint in the West Bank or on the computers at the Erez crossing point.
The possibility that Israel would stop registering the population of the Gaza Strip in its computer system was never raised during the negotiations over disengagement. Were Israel to stop doing so, it would be violating an international agreement that Israel is a signatory to: the Interim Agreement that states that the Gaza Strip and West Bank must be considered one territorial unit. It would be contrary to the international (and Israeli) attitude toward the Palestinian Authority as a single, central entity that is supposed to conduct the civilian lives of the residents of the Strip and West Bank that, according to the UN resolutions, will constitute (in their entirety) the Palestinian state.
Clearly the Israeli government has an interest in having the legal world declare that the occupation of the Gaza Strip has ceased. There is no doubt that it will find many who support this and ignore "trifles" such as control over the population registry. The occupation of land is concrete while the control of computer databases and their documents appear to be virtual.
But there is nothing virtual in Israeli control over the Erez and Allenby crossing points. The Erez crossing is still closed to Palestinian traffic. And since Israel forbids Gazans to enter the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge at the Jordanian border, the opening of the Rafah crossing point perhaps makes it possible for them to reach Australia, but not Hebron, Ramallah or Nablus.
And there is nothing virtual about the defense establishment's announcement of a blanket prohibition against Gazans studying in the West Bank. This ban became evident during the preparation of a petition to the High Court of Justice on behalf of 10 students of occupational therapy who have tried in vain for two years to get to their studies in Bethlehem. The court rejected their petition against the defense establishment more than a year ago. Now that attorneys Kenneth Mann and Sari Bashi are representing them, they were told explicitly that there is a total prohibition against Gazans studying in the West Bank. Australia, Canada or Pakistan - yes. Bethlehem - no.
Israel thus displays its very real, not merely effective, control of the right of movement of the Gazans and all their civil rights that are derived from it, such as the right to study and the right to get medical treatment. The Israeli officers who forbid Gazans to study occupational therapy in a special program devised for them in Bethlehem know very well that there is only one certified occupational therapist in Gaza. They know very well how many people there are with physical and mental disabilities who need help to be rehabilitated, which is not available in the Strip.
The heads of the defense establishment who decided to forbid Gazans to study in the West Bank know very well that they are deterring a large segment of the youth from going to study at all - because of the distance from their homes, the difficulties in paying, language problems and the fear of being in a strange land. This goes beyond the violation of the individual's freedom of choice and the rights of the Palestinians as a national entity.
Even without being an occupying force in the Strip, and by virtue of the fact that it is continuing to hold control over the West Bank, Israel controls the most substantive and important elements in the lives of the Gazans and their future. What hurts is that so many Israelis simply do not care.
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