Text size

Two Israeli human rights groups said in a joint report Wednesday that a new Israeli policy is deepening the separation between the West Bank and Gaza and tearing Palestinian families apart, in violation of international law.

The policy, in effect since November 2007, is turning some Palestinians into illegal residents in their own homes, said the report by the groups B'Tselem and Hamoked. In one high-profile case, a Gaza man has been barred from joining his wife who has West Bank residency and gave birth to quadruplets last month.

Israeli officials say the travel ban came in response to the takeover of Gaza by Hamas in June 2007. Following the takeover, Israel declared Gaza a hostile entity and, along with Egypt, imposed a strict blockade on the coastal territory that is home to 1.4 million Palestinians.

Israel also refused to register a change of address of Gazans who moved from Gaza to the West Bank before 2000, according to Wednesday's report.

Under a new policy, these Gazans must now obtain special permits to continue living in the West Bank, the report said. The permits are valid for three months at a time, and very stringent criteria must be met, the rights groups said. Marriage to a West Banker does not guarantee getting a permit, the report said.

Gazans caught in the West Bank without a permit are sent back to Gaza.

The new permit regime is an unprecedented, legally baseless move by which Israel is turning Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territories into 'illegal aliens' in their own homes, the report said.

Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for B'Tselem, estimated that hundreds of Palestinians are affected by the new restrictions.

Israel's government office in charge of formulating the new policy had no immediate comment.

Andy David, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Israel considers the West Bank and Gaza as parts of a future Palestinian state. The Hamas takeover of Gaza and the group's refusal to recognize previous peace accords are the real reason for the constraints on the passage of Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank, David said.

Hamoked's lawyers are representing a Gaza bride who planned to marry a West Bank man, and was told by Israel she could attend her wedding in the West Bank only if she deposits a NIS 20,000 shekel ($5,500) guarantee that she will return to Gaza afterward.

At the same time, Israel grants permits for West Bankers to join spouses in Gaza, provided they agree never to return to the West Bank, the groups said. Such demands are an attempt to forcibly remove residents of the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, according to the report.

Haula Hamdan, 32, married a Gaza man five years ago, but is still registered as a West Bank resident. Hamdan, a major in the Palestinian police, left Gaza in early August to give birth to quadruplets - two boys and two girls - at an Israeli hospital. After the birth, she decided not to return to Gaza because of the difficult living conditions there, and is staying with her parents in her home village of Rafat.

She said Israel is barring her husband from joining her in the West Bank. "I don't want to go back to Gaza under any circumstances because there is no medication there," she said in an interview. "I cannot help my children there. I want my husband to come here."