The Gazan and the general
It is hard to imagine anything more beneficial for a society undergoing change and upheaval than women’s empowerment. So why isn't Gaza resident Andalib Shahada allowed to pursue her studies in the West Bank?
Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot has never met Andalib Shahada. He is a high-ranking officer in the military and she is a Palestinian leader in women’s empowerment. Nevertheless, their careers are intertwined.
Shahada had hoped that Maj. Gen. Dangot, in his role as the coordinator of government activities in the territories, would allow her to continue her studies for a master’s degree she began 13 years ago in a special gender studies program at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah. Her wish did not seem unrealistic when the High Court of Justice discussed it last May and ordered the state to reconsider its refusal to allow Shahada and several other female students, most of them women’s rights activists in Gaza, to attend classes in the West Bank.
When the state persisted in its refusal, the High Court of Justice ordered the court last week to show cause order. Another reason for Shahada’s optimism was a previous decision by Dangot to allow her to attend a joint workshop with human rights activists from Switzerland, held in Ramallah in July 2011. This decision shows that the General Security Service does not consider Shahada’s entry into Israel a security threat and that the subject of her studies – advocacy for women’s rights – is recognized as reason to permit her entry, even under a policy that openly restricts passage from Gaza to the West Bank.
Despite this, on August 13 Dangot told the High Court of Justice that he was persisting in his refusal to allow Shahada to attend classes “due to weighty security and political considerations.” With that, he handed the case back to the Supreme Court, which will have to rule on whether to accept those considerations or require the state to exempt the students from its general prohibition.
It is close to certain that Shahada and her fellow students are not what bother Dangot. Rather, what he fears is a gradual erosion of the sweeping prohibition against Gaza residents traveling to the West Bank for academic study.
The prohibition was imposed when the Second Intifada broke out in September 2000. Since then, it has been relaxed only once: for three students during the summer of 2010 as a gesture to the United States, which had awarded them a scholarship.
The defense establishment continues to ignore the High Court’s 2007 recommendation to allow exceptions for students. Meanwhile, more than 4,000 Palestinians per month, about half of them businesspeople, are crossing into Israel from Gaza via the Erez checkpoint.
In his answer to the High Court of Justice, Maj. Gen. Dangot claimed that he could only state the weighty security and political reasons for depriving Shahada of the right to a master’s degree, which would help her improve the status of women in Gaza, in a closed session and without her attorney present. Is he doing this in order to weaken the Hamas regime? It does not seem to me that Hamas would be upset over the silencing of women’s rights activists in Gaza. Is the goal to stop the rocket fire? Research shows that empowering women in a society decreases militarism within it (as Israeli women’s rights activists know well). Is there a general fear of regional instability?
It is hard to imagine anything more beneficial for a society undergoing change and upheaval than women’s empowerment.
The prohibition, therefore, is rooted in what Dangot calls “the policy of separation,” whose purpose is to prevent the passage of people (as well as goods) from Gaza to the West Bank, particularly for long-term reasons such as marriage or study. This policy was never brought up for public debate (nor is it clear which government official approved it, if any ever did). Nevertheless, it delineates the nature of the relationship between Dangot and Shahada – a relationship that, with Dangot’s latest answer to the High Court of Justice, remains stuck.
Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot has demonstrated how he sees his professional duties by carrying out a policy that, as he put it, distinguishes between the civilian population and the terror organization, Hamas. This month, the High Court will have to decide Andalib Shahada’s chances of pursuing her chosen profession: promoting the rights of Palestinian women in the Gaza Strip.
Attorney Sari Bashi is co-founder and executive director of Gisha, which was established to protect freedom of movement for Palestinians.