Israeli authorities are barring a Palestinian woman who was born in the West Bank and who married a man from the Gaza Strip and has lived there for the past two years from leaving Gaza and returning to the area of the West Bank where she had lived previously.
The authorities said the woman, Shada Shandghali, 23, signed a document declaring that she had settled in the Gaza Strip, imposing the restrictions on her movement that apply to other Gaza residents, and that she is therefore no longer entitled to live in the West Bank.
Shandghali was born and raised in the Al Amari refugee camp just outside of Ramallah. In 2015, she met Issam, a resident of Jabalya in the Gaza Strip, who was receiving medical treatment in Ramallah at the time. They married, and one of their daughters was born in Ramallah. Because Israel does not allow Gaza residents to remain in the West Bank even if they started a family and have found employment there, Issam returned to Gaza, where he continued to receive medical treatment. In 2016, Shada followed him to Gaza with their daughter.
In 2017, Shada submitted two requests to the Israeli army’s District Coordination and Liaison Office (which is subordinate to the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) for permission to return to the West Bank. She received no response to either request. In the interim, a second daughter was born to the couple in Gaza.
In 2018, Shandghali submitted three additional requests to leave Gaza. In a telephone conversation, she and her husband told Haaretz that the living conditions in Gaza were so difficult that they had decided that it would be better for their daughters to live in the West Bank, even at the price of being separated from their father. Before her marriage, Shada worked as a photographer in a photography studio and she intended to return to that job.
After her requests to the District Coordination and Liaison Office went unanswered, the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement approached the head of the liaison office, Col. Iyad Sarhan, on Shada’s behalf. Two months later, Gisha, an Israeli non-profit group, received a response from liaison office ombudswoman, Roni Vaknin, who said Shandghali’s requests had been denied because of the declaration that she had signed when she moved to Gaza, which subjected her to restrictions on movement that apply to Gaza residents. “[Shendghali] did all this knowing that this policy allows her entry into Israel for the purpose of movement to Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] only in exceptional humanitarian cases,” Vaknin said.
Gisha lawyers Muna Haddad and Sigi Ben-Ari filed a petition in Jerusalem District Court seeking an order allowing Shada to return to her parents’ home in the West Bank. The lawyers told the court that Shada had been forced to sign the document without all its implications having been made clear to her and only understood that without her signature, she would not have been able to see her husband. The lawyers argued that depriving Shada of the right to return to the West Bank is a violation of the Geneva Convention, which bars the forced transfer of someone entitled to protection under the treaty against their will. The lawyers also cited the fact that Shada and her daughters are registered as residents of El Bireh in the West Bank as proof that she did not plan on settling in the Gaza Strip.
In response to the petition, the state replied that her requests for permission to travel back to the West Bank failed to provide exceptional humanitarian grounds justifying the request in accordance with the policies of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. Because she signed a request to reside in Gaza and moved there to live, she is not considered a protected person according to the Geneva Convention because she no longer lives in occupied territory (the West Bank) and because she had left the West Bank, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said.
For their part, Gisha’s lawyers said it is absurd to claim that the moment Shada left the West Bank, she was no longer a protected person within the meaning of the Geneva Convention. They added that the definition of forced transfer that the convention prohibits has to include preventing the return to the occupied territory (the West Bank) by someone who has left it.
A hearing will be held on the petition on Monday in the Jerusalem District Court.
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