Opinion

A Palestinian Who’s Denied a Vote — and Trapped in Gaza

Shada Shandghali and her daughters in the Gaza Strip.
Courtesy of the family

Shada Shandghali didn’t cast a ballot Tuesday, and not because her life isn’t deeply connected to Israel. Quite the contrary.

In addition to us Israeli citizens, there are nearly 5 million people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea for whom Israel decides how they live and with whom. But they are denied the right to vote for the people who determine their fate.

Shandghali is one of them. She was born in the West Bank in 1996, and Israel has barred her from returning there.

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In 2015, she met a resident of the Gaza Strip who was staying in Ramallah. They got married. She gave birth to a daughter. He returned to Gaza, because Israel, with the cheeky arbitrariness of an occupier, decided he was living illegally in the West Bank. The mother and baby followed the father to Gaza.

It’s only 70 kilometers, 43 miles. She was thinking of something like a long visit. After all, there are couples who meet for long weekends when one is working in London and the other is studying in Haifa, so why not go back and forth between Gaza and Ramallah?

Shandghali was required to sign a document that Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories calls a declaration of relocating to Gaza. She understood that without signing, she wouldn’t see her husband.

But Israel is telling Shandghali, “You went to Gaza? You signed the document? You’ve had it. You’re a prisoner for life. You’ll never leave Gaza, even though things are tough there and you’d prefer that your daughters lived somewhere less oppressive.”

On Monday afternoon, the Jerusalem District Court held a hearing on a petition filed for Shandghali by the rights group Gisha. The petition asks that Shandghali be allowed to return to the West Bank.

The judge was Eli Abravanel. Last week, he rejected a petition by the Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual against Israel’s planned deportation of Mustafa al-Kharouf, a press photographer who has lived in Jerusalem from age 12 with his father, who was born in the city and has permanent residency in Israel.

Abravanel accepted the position of the Interior Ministry and the Shin Bet security service, which was that Kharouf’s request for family unification with his Jerusalemite wife and daughter should be rejected. It was right to arrest him as an illegal resident, even though he has appealed the rejection of his request for family reunification, the judge ruled. It’s right to continue holding him in detention without trial until he’s deported (he has already spent almost two months in jail). And it’s okay to deport him to Jordan, even though Jordan has made clear that he’s neither a citizen nor a resident of that country, so it won’t let him in.

The judge relied on classified intelligence that was gathered over the last six years. This material states that Kharouf is a security risk. How can it be that a security risk has never been arrested, interrogated or put on trial? The judge didn’t explain that. But he didn’t accept the explanation that the appellant’s various acquaintances were related to his work as a journalist.

At Monday’s hearing on Shandghali’s case, Abravanel was inclined to accept the argument that she didn’t understand the full import of her signature. “She has only been living in Gaza for two years; there are things it’s not worth going all the way on,” he told Moran Braun, the lawyer from the Jerusalem district prosecutor’s office. He suggested that the state reconsider its refusal.

Maj. Yael Fefer Pinarsky, the legal adviser for COGAT’s liaison office with Gaza, said heatedly that letting Shandghali leave would undermine the entire policy of bidul, segregation (that is, severing Gaza from the West Bank). Braun discussed the criterion that has been set for leaving – only in exceptional humanitarian cases. Many people want to leave Gaza because things are difficult there, he said. If Shandghali can return to the West Bank, this criterion won’t be able to remain in force.

To that, Abravanel replied, “Maybe some of the criteria is inappropriate.” Gisha’s attorney argued that “even if Shandghali had understood the significance of her signature, Article 8 of the Geneva Convention states that a protected person” – that is, someone living under occupation – “isn’t entitled to waive the rights enshrined in the convention.”

The parties were instructed to inform the court of their updated positions in June. And on Tuesday, Israel’s citizens elected a government that will continue to control the lives of 5 million people deprived of the right to vote.