Israel will allow a six-year-old boy to leave the Gaza Strip and move to the West Bank where his family lives, after two and a half years of denying the request.
On Monday, the Jerusalem District Attorney's office informed the Gisha human rights organization, which represents Adam Hemo and his mother Kawthar – and which filed suit on their behalf, that their request had been approved.
The family hoped that Adam could leave Gaza immediately, but the state stipulated the move on Adam's mother and three of his older siblings (16-year-old sister and 13-year-old twin brothers) undergoing a security check. Jerusalem District Court judge David Gidoni gave the government one month to conduct the security check and submit its results.
Kawther is originally from the village of Kafr Malik in the West Bank, east of Ramallah, but lived in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip for 15 years. In early 2017, Kawthar, who lives separately from her husband, asked to return to the West Bank with her five children from Gaza.
As Haaretz reported in June, Israel allowed her and her four oldest children to leave Gaza for the West Bank in 2017, but did not allow Adam, who was three and a half year old at the time, to leave. The explanation was that Adam was listed in the Palestinian population registry as living in Rafah, while his mother and siblings were registered as living in Kafr Malik.
She refused to leave her toddler son behind. The family decided that the eldest son, who was born in Ramallah, will return to the West Bank and live with his grandparents while Kawther and the rest of the children will stay in Rafah.
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Adam's case is one of many, as Israel does not allow Palestinians to move from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank or change their addresses to the West Bank, except in exceptional circumstances.
The Israeli army's District Coordination and Liaison Office at the Erez checkpoint, part of the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), required the family to submit a request for Adam to move according to the "settlement regulation."
The regulation lists requirements an application must meet before it can be processed. Accordingly, only people with an immediate relative in the West Bank are allowed to submit this application, and it will only be handled in the following three humanitarian situations: A long-term chronically ill patient; a person over the age of 65 requiring nursing care, who can only be cared for by a first-degree relative who lives in the West Bank; and a minor under the age of 16 with one parent who was a Gaza resident and has died, while the other parent’s address is in the West Bank.
Adam does not meet any of these criteria, but Gisha says that because of his age and dependence on his mother, it would be proper to allow him to move to the West Bank. These strict criteria explain why, since the regulation was introduced in 2009, it has only been used to address five requests to take up residence in the West Bank – all by minors and only after their cases reached the High Court of Justice.
In September 2017, Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg accepted the state prosecutor’s position that the petition should be rejected because: “The petitioners did not exhaust the administrative possibilities available to them and did not submit a suitable application in accordance with the regulation…,” Sohlberg wrote in his ruling. The judge also wrote that the court remained open to the petitioners “if the proceeding according to the settlement regulation does not go well.”
For a year and a half, the family’s attempts to file an application for Adam to move to the West Bank according to regulations were rejected because the legal proceeding on the matter was pending. At the end of June, the Israel Defense Forces' District Coordination and Liaison office received the request – only after a hearing was scheduled on a further court petition submitted by Gisha with the district court. The state then announced it would allow Adam to leave Gaza after his siblings and mother underwent a security check by the Shin Bet security service.
Gisha said they hope Adam will celebrate his sixth birthday this summer, on August 18, in the West Bank with his mother and all his siblings. “It is regrettable that it required a long legal battle to allow it,” Gisha said. “Israel’s control of the Palestinian population registry has been used to violently disrupt the lives of Palestinians, and as was proved in this case too, without any connection to security needs,” Gisha added.