The woman looked at the young man in front of her as though he were a rare museum exhibit. He's a native of Gaza who arrived in the West Bank on his own about four years ago, and has lived there since then. He's not a senior official in Fatah or in one of the Palestinian Authority security services, not a relative or an associate of a highly placed person.
So how did you do it? He smiled and raised his eyebrows. The woman, also a native of Gaza, replied to his amused silence: "Ah, I understand, you had a brain tumor." Several of the others in the room strangled cries of panic. We had to explain to them that this is only a metaphor for the strange and unusual way he had found to receive a transit permit from Israel for the purpose of entering the West Bank.
The young man did not explain what the "strange way" was. He said that from the age of 12 he knew that he wanted to study and live in the West Bank. Many Gaza residents dream of studying in the West Bank (and not necessarily settling there ), but, as regular readers will recall, the Israeli authorities and the members of the High Court of Justice do not consider studying in general, and higher education in particular, a sufficient reason for issuing the transit permit. Family, work, a livelihood, friends, a desire to travel: these are not sufficient reasons either. Only extreme medical cases or other humanitarian emergencies are officially considered a good enough reason for Israel to allow someone to leave Gaza via Israel.
It should be noted parenthetically to anyone who talks about an almost total removal of the Gaza blockade and insists that the rest depends on Egypt: That is a fiction. Nonsense. Western imagination. Israel is maintaining its consistent policy of not allowing the Palestinians from the Strip to reach the most natural place for them: the West Bank. Israel has achieved an almost total victory in its 20-year-old policy of severing the population of the Strip from the West Bank, to the point that this severance is not considered part of the blockade.
Getting back to the young man: Life away from his family did not cause him to despair, and neither did periods when he was so poor he couldn't afford public transportation. Neither was he deterred by the outrageous definition of the Israeli authorities rendering him an "illegal sojourner" in the West Bank, in effect imprisoning within an enclave bordered by military checkpoints, for fear of being caught leaving it. There was a moment of crisis during the Israel Defense Forces attack on the Gaza Strip in 2009, when he wanted to be with his family again. His parents convinced him to stay put.
According to figures that the office of Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, the IDF coordinator of government activities in the territories, recently gave Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, there are about 35,000 people in a situation similar to that of our young man. Hamoked wanted to know "the number of Palestinian Authority residents who are presently living or sojourning in the West Bank, but whose registered address in Israel's copy of the Palestinian population registry is in the Gaza Strip." (Another reminder: Israel prohibits the PA from changing addresses in the population registry and on ID cards from Gaza to a West Bank city. This contravenes a clause of the Oslo Accords, which explicitly authorizes the PA to change the address. )
And this is what Lt. Col. Uri Mendes, director of the department of intelligence and coordination in Dangot's office, wrote to Hamoked: 7,919 residents of the Gaza Strip entered the West Bank via the "safe passage" (a transportation link between the West Bank and Gaza that operated for about two years, until the outbreak of the second intifada; those traveling on it did not need individual exit permits ) and, according to IDF records, remained in the West Bank. Another 935 people received individual permits up to the end of 2000 to travel to the West Bank via Israel and remained in the West Bank, according to IDF records. Another 23,348 received transit permits between 2001 and April 2010 and, according to the records, did not return to Gaza. And another interesting figure: 2,479 people born in the West Bank during this period, mostly babies and children, are registered as residents of the Gaza Strip.
Mendes notes several qualifications regarding the data's accuracy. The return to Gaza was not always recorded on the computer. There may be some people who left via the Allenby Bridge, and there too the exit registration is not always computerized. (Here it should be remarked that since 1997 Israel has forbidden Palestinians whose address is Gaza to enter or leave the West Bank via the Jordanian border. In rare and computerized instances, apparently, a special individual permit was issued by the Civil Administration, which is subordinate to Dangot's office. ) There are also members of the Palestinian security forces and police who moved from Gaza to the West Bank with a group permit. There is no individual surveillance of the movements of each one of them (many were seized during the intifada and sent to the Gaza Strip, including some who had started families in the West Bank ).
Between 2002 and May 2010 Israel allowed 388 Palestinians to formally change their address from Gaza to the West Bank, but there is no way of knowing the total number of requests for a change of address. "This information was not saved in the archives of the liaison office and the Civil Administration," notes Mendes.
Hamoked sent its request for this data to the coordinator of government activities in the territories on June 10, 2009. On February 17 this year, after several reminders that went unanswered and several more delays with various excuses, Hamoked was forced to appeal to the Administrative Court to receive the information that the Freedom of Information Law entitles it to have. On June 2 of this year, almost a year after the original request was sent, Dangot's office replied.
The bottom line, according to Hamoked, is that about 35,000 Palestinian are candidates for expulsion from their homes, according to the amendment to the order on infiltration that went into effect in April of this year. These are Palestinians who are living in constant fear, people who restrict their movements ahead to time to avoid being caught by an alert soldier who will discover their criminal offense: having the wrong address.