The High Court of Justice ruled on Monday against four female university students from the Gaza Strip who have been seeking to study at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

The court rejected a petition filed on the women's behalf by the Gaza-based Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights and the Israeli group Gisha, which advocates in favor of Palestinian freedom of movement, particularly from the Gaza Strip. A panel of high court judges accepted the state's argument that it has no obligation to accord Gaza residents the right to study in the West Bank.

Israel has barred Gaza residents from studying in the West Bank since 2000, and in the 12 years since has only allowed three Gaza residents to study at universities in the West Bank.

The three had received U.S. government scholarships, and the Israeli government said the previous permissions granted to Gazans were justified by foreign policy considerations.

The four petitioners, aged between 37 and 49, were registered for master's studies at Birzeit University. The petition also included a fifth woman, 18, who had been seeking to study law at the school. In May of this year, the High Court of Justice ordered the state to reconsider the case of the four older women.

In July, the state announced that it would not be changing its stance.

In the decision announced this week, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein differed from his two court colleagues in recommending that the state establish an exceptions committee that would consider cases such as those of the four petitioners. He said this would not violate what he said was Israel's legitimate policy of isolating the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and limiting the number of Gazans given passage through Israel.

The two other justices, Miriam Naor and Zvi Zybertal, disagreed about the need for an exceptions committee. For her part, Naor said allowing exceptions would lead others to petition the court claiming discrimination. Zybertal noted that if an exceptions committee were established, it would imply that the criteria Israel currently applies for passage from the Gaza Strip are unreasonable.

"I am not a party to such a conclusion," he wrote in his opinion. Zylbertal also accepted the state's position that individual examination of requests at variance with the current criteria would not be practical.