Tissue Tests Planned for Israelis in Gaza Who Want to Cross Border

Testing procedure involves opening a case file in family court, hiring a lawyer, finding a biological relative and coordinating a meeting at border crossing to submit saliva samples.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The Interior Ministry is drafting a protocol that would require Israeli citizens living in the Gaza Strip to undergo tissue-culture testing to verify their identities before being allowed into Israel. The ministry’s actions were cited in a government response to an appeal by an Israeli citizen whose reentry into Israel has been held up for several months by the ministry and the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. The appellant requested that she be identified in this article only by her last name, al-Wahidi. She was also asked to submit to tissue testing, as a condition for receiving the Israeli passport or laissez-passer that would permit her to enter Israel at the Erez border crossing.

Wahidi’s appeal was heard on Thursday, in her absence, by the Be’er Sheva District Court, sitting as a court for administrative matters. The vice president of the court, Judge Sarah Dovrat, gave the state two weeks to submit an additional response and recommended that the state attorney consult with her superiors in order to formulate a “practical solution” to ascertaining the identities of citizens in Wahidi’s position.

According to Wahidi’s co-appellant in the case, Gisha − Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, tissue testing is an invasive, extreme measure taken only when all other means of identification have failed, which is not the case with Wahidi.

Staff members of the advocacy organization say the process is also prohibitively expensive ‏(around NIS 10,000 per test‏), logistically complicated and very drawn-out.

The testing procedure involves opening a case file in family court, hiring a lawyer, finding a biological relative and coordinating a meeting at Erez to submit saliva samples, among other actions. Gisha staffers say they fear the introduction of a tissue-testing requirement would deter Israeli citizens living in the Gaza Strip from exercising their fundamental right to enter Israel. Attorney Nomi Heger, director of Gisha’s Legal Department and the author of Wahidi’s appeal, said: “We would be happy if the state took advantage of the time given it to submit a response to abandon this disproportionate protocol-in-the-making, which lacks all justification on the grounds of security or anything else.”

Since the borders of the Gaza Strip were opened in the wake of the Israeli occupation in 1967, a number of Israeli citizens − most of them women − have married Gazan Palestinians. Wahidi is one of them. She was born in Rehovot in 1965, in the 1980s she and her mother both converted to Islam, and later she married a Gazan and moved to the Strip. Wahidi, presumably like many Israeli women who settled in the Gaza Strip, was unaware that her Israeli citizenship had not been revoked. Wahidi had to hand over her Israeli I.D. card to the Civil Administration when she received her Gaza residency card. Her Israeli card, which she relinquished before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, was subsequently lost. Its disappearance was one of the reasons for the bureaucratic entanglement preventing her from entering Israel, even though Israeli authorities do not deny that there is an Israeli citizen with her name and despite the fact that Wahidi’s Gaza residency card is an Israeli document.

No calls to mom, questions about childhood

In the past two years the number of requests by Israelis living in the Gaza Strip to exercise their right to enter Israel has increased. In its statement to the court the state noted that in the wake of this increase the Interior Ministry’s Population Registry and other agencies began searching for a new identity verification protocol for such individuals: “In the absence of the possibility for verified identification by means at the [Population Registry’s] disposal, passport issuance shall be contingent on tissue testing for the purpose of identity verification.” According to the Population Registry, there have been cases of Gazans impersonating Israeli citizens.

In a response to Haaretz, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad wrote that no tissue-testing protocol has been drafted and that there is certainly no broad directive to require tissue testing. She said the issue is under discussion and that each case referred to the agency would be examined thoroughly. Haddad did not reply to a question about the number of Israeli citizens living in the Gaza Strip.

Gisha’s executive director, Sari Bashi, noted that Wahidi was not given other opportunities to prove her identity: She was not invited to the Erez crossing to answer questions, for example, about her childhood neighborhood in Rehovot, nor did anyone call her mother to ask about her. Bashi said that many other measures have been taken to verify identity in much more complicated cases than Wahidi’s, such as tracking down the individual’s birth certificate or searching for a Palestinian identity card.

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