The Israeli policy of isolating the Gaza Strip, which disrupts the lives of tens of thousands of Palestinians, has received the support of the Supreme Court over the years – although the policy of segregation defies one of the principles of the Oslo Accords, which states that Gaza and the West Bank constitute a single geographic unit.
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The justices of the High Court of Justice have accepted the state’s position in various petitions against this segregation policy. The courts have accepted the government's position, that Israel has the right to prevent the free movement of people through Israel from the Gaza Strip for security reasons. A report from B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual released this week shows the role of the High Court of Justice in affirming this policy.
The report, entitled “So near and yet so far: Implications of Israeli-imposed seclusion of the Gaza Strip on Palestinians’ right to family life,” describes how the limitations on movement that Israel imposes on residents of Gaza separate family members, force them to undergo rigid bureaucratic procedures and cause thousands of people who have moved to the West Bank, in defiance of Israeli regulations, to live in an ongoing situation of uncertainty and in fear of expulsion to Gaza.
The Justice Ministry response to a draft of the report stresses that the “policy of Israel on this matter has been examined by the High Court of Justice, which has ruled time after time that there is no reason to intervene.”
One of the 27 cases mentioned in the report is that of Suleiman Obeid, a soccer player from Gaza. Israel has allowed members of the Palestinian national soccer team to move to the West Bank to participate in training and games, but did not allow their families to go with them. Obeid moved to Ramallah in June 2008, but his wife and two small children remained in Gaza. In addition, he was not allowed to visit his mother before she died. Because he missed his family, he decided last May to return to Gaza – and in doing so cut short his soccer career. There are seven other players from Gaza in a similar situation, who have not been able to stand the separation from their families.
“The desire to hug your child, to sleep with your wife or to have children are basic needs,” says Obeid, "but Israel decides whether you can fulfill them."
The organizations’ report emphasizes that Israel’s claims of security risks, which prevent the movement from Gaza to the West Bank for the purpose of family reunification, are not valid when it comes to people moving in the opposite direction. Israel does allow movement through its territory for those who wish to move to the Gaza Strip for humanitarian reasons, including family reunification. Those wishing to do so must sign a document declaring their intention to settle there permanently, in the understanding that they will not be allowed to return to the West Bank, except in extraordinary humanitarian cases.
The High Court rejected the 2010 petition of Hamoked, which represented a resident of the West Bank and her children, who asked to be with their husband/father, one of those expelled to Gaza after hiding in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem at the beginning of the second intifada. Israel has refused to allow those who were expelled to return to the West Bank, and demands that the petitioners in this case settle permanently in Gaza if they want to reunite with the head of the household.
B’Tselem and Hamoked say that the fact that the passage through Israel for the purpose of reunification with a spouse in Gaza is possible “places the security claim in doubt and raises the suspicion that the declared reasons were intended to conceal forbidden demographically based considerations.”
The Justice Ministry also adds in response to the new report that “the facts presented in the report are not completely accurate, ignore the situation on the ground, and are in part tendentious” – but the ministry fails to give examples of the supposed inaccuracies.