No direction home
Imagine a situation in which a resident of Haifa is prohibited from entering Tel Aviv without a permit (which is difficult to obtain) from the Israel Police.
Imagine a situation in which a resident of Haifa is prohibited from entering Tel Aviv without a permit (which is difficult to obtain) from the Israel Police. Imagine also that the Interior Ministry does not allow people to change their place of residence in Israel without its permission, and that authorization of change of address is given to few individuals, without any criteria and without transparency.
Imagine a situation in which 10 students from Rosh Pina enrolled for physiotherapy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be'er Sheva. Study in Safed, the authorities tell them, ignoring the fact that there are no physiotherapy studies in Safed. Or, let us say that one day the Interior Ministry suspends the process of authorizing a change of address from one district to another. The authorities deigned to permit a girl from Kibbutz Hazorea to travel to Jerusalem and marry her Jerusalemite boyfriend, with whom she has been living in the city, but they refuse to change her address. Then, when she went to Hazorea to attend her father's funeral, they refused to let her go back to Jerusalem, where she is classified as "illegally present."
Hard to imagine? This is in fact a stifling everyday reality, though the victims are not Israelis. Just change the names of the places. Instead of Kibbutz Hazorea and Haifa, write Deir el-Balah or Gaza; instead of Be'er Sheva and Rosh Pina, write Ramallah, Bethlehem or Jericho. All the examples cited above actually happened. To residents of Gaza and the West Bank. And they are only drops in a vast ocean of similar prohibitions. They stem from Israel's total control of the Palestinian Population Registry.
The height of this control is manifested in the freedom assumed by the Israeli authorities to prevent residents of the Gaza Strip from visiting, residing or working in the West Bank. In the past five years, everyone whose address in his ID card is "Gaza" but is in the West Bank without a valid Israeli transit permit, is "illegally present" and will be expelled back to Gaza. And there are thousands of such people, some of whom have lived for 10 or 20 years in the West Bank. They live in constant fear of being arrested at a checkpoint by a soldier, who will expel them to the Erez transit terminal.
Under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority is obliged only to inform the Israeli Interior Ministry of a person's change of address: from Nablus to Ramallah, from Gaza to Hebron or Jericho. Nowhere is it stipulated that the PA has to wait for Israeli authorization of the change of address. The logic is clear. Under the agreements, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are one territorial unit. Nevertheless, Israel has systematically violated this clause in connection with residents of Gaza. Israel reserved the "right" to approve or prevent the change of address, without citing transparent criteria, without explaining the violation of the Oslo Accord. But the Israeli hand on the keyboard is the decisive element: if an Israeli clerk does not change the address in the computer, the soldier and the policeman at the checkpoint will know it immediately and will arrest the offender.
That is what happened to H., who is Gaza-born. Beginning in 1991 he took computer studies at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank. He found a job in Ramallah and also married and raised a family there, and changed his address in the Palestinian Interior Ministry. In March 2002, as part of his work, he was asked to travel to Jordan. At Allenby Bridge he was arrested and incarcerated in Ashkelon Prison. His interrogators there told him that according to the Israeli computer his address is "Gaza," and therefore he is "illegally present" in Ramallah.
H. was deported to Gaza. Appeals by the Jerusalem-based Center for the Defense of the Individual to the Civil Administration to permit H. to rejoin his wife and children and return to his job in Ramallah went unanswered. In June 2003, the Center petitioned the High Court of Justice. In February 2004, almost a year after H. was deported, the State Prosecutor's Office told the High Court that "out of leniency, the respondents have decided to permit the appellant to enter Judea and Samaria and remain there."
This intervention in saliently personal decisions of Gaza residents, such as their choice of where to study and where to live, began in 1991, when Israel reversed its previous policy and obliged Palestinians to obtain personal travel authorizations from the territories into Israel and between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The intervention was only aggravated after the establishment of the PA, and in contravention of the Oslo Accords. It reached a peak in the past five years, to the point of expulsion. In many cases, legal action makes the state retract its decision "out of leniency," even when its initial pretext cited "security motives," thus underscoring the underlying arbitrariness of the policy.
The issue of principle and the historic fact remain: Israel began to sever the population of the Gaza Strip from that of the West Bank before the Oslo Accord, continued to do so without interference during the Oslo period under cover of the euphoria that prevailed in the wake of the peace agreement, and is now completing the severance this time under cover of the admiration for the disengagement plan.