Israelis Now Need Passports or Laissez Passers to Enter Gaza via Erez Checkpoint

As of February 1, Israelis who enter the Gaza Strip have been required to show a passport or a laissez passer (permit issued in lieu of a passport) at the Erez Checkpoint.

The regulation is in keeping with the declaration that the Erez Checkpoint is an "international crossing point" and the Israeli position that the Gaza Strip is not occupied territory.

Residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip do not have to present a passport, but do have to show personal permits provided by the Civil Administration, as has been the case since 1991.

The vast majority of Israelis who are affected by this new practice are residents of East Jerusalem, who do not have Israeli citizenship, and Arab citizens of Israel. These include people who have relatives in Gaza and from time to time get permission to visit there, but most are wives and children of Gaza residents who live in the Strip and who, under a special arrangement dating from 1994, are required every month to renew their permits to reside in Gaza.

Some 800 to 1,000 women from Jerusalem are married to Gaza residents or periodically visit relatives there, and they are now required to deposit their identity cards with the Interior Ministry in Jerusalem in exchange for a travel document. Previously, they deposited their Israeli ID cards at Erez. Israeli citizens are required to deposit their passports at the Civil Administration's "office for Israeli affairs."

In addition to the passport and travel document requirements, entry and exit from Gaza are conditional on complicated prior coordination with the Civil Administration.

In the opinion of Hamoked - the Center for the Defense of the Individual, the new regulation will lead to Palestinian Jerusalemites married to Gaza residents losing their residency rights, based on an Israeli law stating that Palestinian residents of Jerusalem whose life is not centered in that city will lose their resident status. Hamoked activists heard from one Interior Ministry official that the ID cards would not be returned, because "the center of their life has now moved."

Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad told Haaretz: "There is no sweeping decision, and every case has to be individually considered."

Arab women who are citizens of Israel, but have married Gazans and live in the Gaza Strip, expressed the fear that they would also lose their citizenship and rights in Israel, but Hadad responded: "It is not possible to lose one's Israeli citizenship automatically."

Some women married to Gazans learned of the new regulation in January, when they went to the Erez Checkpoint to renew their permit to remain there. They were told that the next time, they would not be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip unless they had a passport. But there were apparently also some women, especially from Jerusalem, who did not know about the new regulation, and when they went to Erez to renew their permits this month, they were surprised to hear that they would not be allowed to return to the Gaza Strip, but would instead have to go to Jerusalem and return with travel documents.

Hadad told Haaretz, however, that residents of Jerusalem who do not yet have travel documents are only required to deposit their ID cards at the Erez Checkpoint.

Over the past two weeks, Hamoked has had to intervene in the cases of several Israelis in order for them to be able to enter the Gaza Strip without a passport. In one case, a woman who had gone to Erez to renew her permit to stay was allowed to return home for one day, but then required to leave the following day, with her children, in order to apply for travel documents for all of them. Hamoked believes that the authorities should have provided an adjustment period.

This reality contradicts another response that Hadad gave to Haaretz - that "a precise date has not yet been fixed after which travel [to Gaza] without a passport will not be allowed. If and when the regulation is fixed, we will publish it in the media."

In Jerusalem, there is a waiting period of two weeks to one month before the travel document is received. In addition, every child needs a document. When entry only required a permit, children under the age of 16 were allowed to enter with their mother without a special permit of their own. This is a financial burden on most families (NIS 300 per travel document), and it also causes the children to miss school.

In at least one case that was brought to the attention of Gisha - Legal Center for the Freedom of Movement, a resident of the West Bank who works in the Gaza Strip was required to show his passport at Erez, in addition to the entry permit he had with him. This indicates that there is confusion in the system. Hadad clarified that "residents of the West Bank are required to coordinate their entry with the army, and there is no connection to the Interior Ministry."