Israel has retracted its initial ban on the entry of an American citizen born in Gaza from visiting his dying mother in Nablus in the West Bank.
Haaretz was told by COGAT, the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, that the entry permit for the Gaza-born American, Awni Abu Rjaila, had been approved on Monday evening, but as of Wednesday morning, after 12 days of waiting, he had still not permitted to enter the West Bank.
On Wednesday afternoon, he was allowed in.
In a statement on Wednesday, the coordinator’s office said the request did not meet the relevant criteria but he would be allowed into the West Bank in any event as a humanitarian gesture.
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Abu Rjaila, a doctor who lives in Tampa, Florida, learned in January that his mother, who is in Nablus, was suffering from pancreatic cancer, which typically results in the patient’s death within a short period of time. She then suffered a stroke and lost her eyesight. He therefore brought forward a trip to visit her in the West Bank, planning to arrive in the West Bank via Jordan.
Abu Rjaila’s wife, Sawsan Rashid, who is also a doctor, and their two daughters, are American citizens and do not possess Palestinian identity cards. They entered the West Bank from Jordan on February 16.
Israel does not allow Palestinians registered as residents of Gaza into the West Bank without special permission. When Abu Rjaila’s wife arrived in Nablus and applied to COGAT’s District Coordination and Liaison office for permission for her husband to enter the West Bank to visit his mother, no response was immediately forthcoming. On February 20, the Israeli group Gisha, which seeks to ensure freedom of movement for Palestinians, applied again on Abu Rjaila’s behalf.
On Monday afternoon, February 25, a refusal arrived, signed by 1st Lt. Roni Vaknin, the public inquiry officer at the District Coordination and Liaison office (CLO) responsible for Gaza. The following day, Tuesday, Haaretz asked the spokesman for COGAT for a response.
That same day, the spokesman’s office told Haaretz that permission for Abu Rjaila to enter the West Bank had been approved by the head of the CLO on Monday night, but because of a planned shutdown of the agency’s computer systems, the permit had not been issued.
Haaretz was also told that the permit would be issued after the system was back online at 10 P.M. on Tuesday, at which point Abu Rjaila would be allowed to the West Bank via the Allenby crossing point from Jordan. The spokesman’s office also asked Haaretz to wait to report on the case until the computer system was again up and running so the material in the system could be reviewed and an accurate response provided. Haaretz agreed to the request.
On Wednesday morning, however, when Gisha called the District Coordination and Liaison office responsible for Gaza to verify that Abu Rjaila’s permit had indeed been issued and that he could enter the West Bank, a soldier at the office said the “request had only been made yesterday [Tuesday] and is still being handled”.
Sawsan Rashid told Haaretz on Wednesday morning that her mother-in-law’s condition was deteriorating further.
In the letter that Gisha received on Monday, Lt. Vaknin explained that Abu Rjaila’s request to see his mother had been rejected on three main grounds: that the request was to enter Gaza, not the West Bank; that his mother has been living in the West Bank illegally since 2011 after having received permission to leave Gaza for medical treatment; and that Abu Rjaila himself had left Gaza via the Rafah crossing point with Egypt, rather than through Israel or in coordination with Israeli authorities.
Gisha said there was no reason for the authorities to conclude that the request had been for a permit to enter Gaza and Abu Rjaila’s mother had remained in Nablus after receiving treatment there and did not return to Gaza because her health did not permit it and because of the poor living conditions in Gaza. In addition, the organization said that the fact that Abu Rjaila left Gaza via Egypt should not preclude a humanitarian visit to see his mother in her final days.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories issued a response on Wednesday noon, saying that, as the agency had initially told Haaretz, Abu Rjaila’s request had indeed been approved, but was awaiting a security check. “It should be noted that Abu Rjaila had left for a stay abroad without a permit as required,” a reference to his departure from Gaza via Egypt, when leaving through Israel was (as it remains to this day) not allowed to most Gazans.
The statement went on to say that Abu Rjaila’s request was to visit his mother at her place of residence in Gaza even though his mother “is illegally residing” in Nablus. “As a result of this, the request was refused, for failing to meet the criteria. Nevertheless, in light of the humanitarian circumstances and beyond the letter of the law, the District Coordination Office for Gaza has decided to approve [the request] as an exception.”