Israel must permit three residents of the Gaza Strip who had traveled abroad to return home via its territory, the Jerusalem District Court ruled on Sunday.
The ruling comes despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority has halted cooperation with Israel and has stopped issuing transit permits to travel through Israel.
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The three petitioners in the case are an elderly couple who went to the United States in February to visit their son and a psychologist who went to Tunisia in September for additional studies there.
According to the permit procedure, which is provided for in the Oslo Accords signed in the 1990s between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, Gaza residents who wished to travel abroad from Jordan through Israel and the West Bank would apply to the Palestinian Authority’s so-called Civilian Committee for a permit. The committee has served as an intermediary between Gaza residents and Israel and set priorities regarding the issuing of the permits.
But in May, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans, which have not been carried out, to annex portions of the West Bank, the PA declared that it would halt cooperation with Israel. Since then, various Palestinian agencies have broken off contact with Israeli authorities. The PA’s Civilian Committee has stopped submitting transit permit requests to Israel, and Israel has not created an alternative procedure.
In the past, Gazans also had the option of traveling abroad via Egypt, which shares a short border with the Gaza Strip at the Rafah crossing point. But that border crossing has been closed since the middle of March due to the coronavirus pandemic, although it has been opened twice – in April and May – for Gazans wishing to return to the Strip. It is not clear when the border crossing might again be opened.
In his ruling on Sunday, Jerusalem District Court deputy president Moshe Sobel ruled that when the Palestinian Authority suspended the work of the Civilian Committee, Israeli authorities had an obligation to find an alternative to enable the petitioners in the case to return to Gaza after leaving the Strip legally. The ruling in the case applies only to the petitioners and not anyone else who may be in similar circumstances, as the judge stated that he had no authority to make a blanket ruling.
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The petition was filed by the Israeli non-profit Gisha, which works to guarantee freedom of movement for Palestinians. It was filed against Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, its Coordination and Liaison Administration and the Defense Ministry.
According to Gisha, dozens of Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip are currently stranded in Jordan and elsewhere around the world because they are unable to return to Gaza. In its petition, the organization sought a blanket ruling from the court that would bar Israel from preventing any Gaza resident in similar circumstances from returning to the Strip despite the Palestinian Authority’s decision to stop processing transit applications.
After leaving Gaza for the United States in February to visit their son, two of the petitioners, 80-year-old Hamed Kahil and his wife, Amana, 76, were unable to get a transit permit to return to Gaza via Jordan and Israel. They have been waiting over the past month in the Jordanian capital, Amman, for their return to be arranged. Hamed Kahil suffers from a degenerative joint condition as well as diabetes and high blood pressure, and his wife has also been under medical observation since undergoing a heart catheterization.
“My husband is totally confused,” Amana Kahil told Haaretz two weeks ago. “When he leaves the room, he doesn’t know how to get back. We are in despair and just want someone to help us get home.” As a result of Sunday’s ruling, they will now be able to return to Gaza.
The third petitioner, 47-year-old Iyad Karnaz, who has a doctorate in psychology, left Gaza in September for additional study in Tunisia. After completing his studies, he planned to return to Gaza, but the pandemic resulted in the cancellation of all flights to Jordan. When he contacted the Palestinian embassy in Jordan, he was informed that it could help him arrange flights via Turkey from Tunisia to Jordan, but he then discovered that the airline only allowed West Bank residents to take such a route and that as a Gaza resident, he needed a transit permit to travel via Israel.
When he applied for a permit, he was told, as the Kahils had been, that the Palestinian Authority was not processing permits. Following Sunday’s ruling, he will be able to leave Tunisia immediately and fly to Jordan, and from there travel via Israel to Gaza.
Gaza residents wishing to fly abroad through Amman cross into Israel at the Erez checkpoint and then proceed through the West Bank to the Allenby Bridge into Jordan. The transit permit confirms that they have a bus waiting for them at the Erez checkpoint that takes them directly to the Allenby Bridge and back from the bridge to Erez on their return. Without such permission, the Jordanians won’t allow them to travel through their territory, either.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the Allenby transit point has only been open sporadically to allow Palestinians to enter the West Bank, and since the Palestinian Authority halted coordination with Israel, only West Bank Palestinians and not Gazans have been permitted to enter the West Bank via Jordan.