Teaching Kafka to Gazans: Israel's Bureaucratic War of Attrition

The process directed at the Abu Saids is not some bizarre harassment of one family. It is one of Israel's standard operating Catch-22's for residents of the Strip.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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The Erez Crossing with the Gaza Strip, in 2014. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Someone wants to prosecute the state after one of its agencies hurt him and his family, but the state – the accused party – refuses to let him see a lawyer so he can sign a power of attorney and hand over his documentation. This conflict of interest is objectionable, unreasonable and unacceptable.

However, its perfectly acceptable when speaking of a family in Gaza, one in which the mother was killed and three other family members were injured during the IDFs routine incursions. The Israeli Coordination and Liaison Administration, which deals with Gaza, is barring the plaintiffs, members of the Abu Said family, from meeting their lawyer from the Abu Hussein law office in Umm al-Fahm. The Abu Saids may not meet their lawyer in Gaza, nor in Israel, nor at the Erez checkpoint on the northern Gaza Strip border, a heavily protected Israeli compound.

In all the drawn-out correspondence between the bureaucrats of the liaison administration (a hybrid of IDF and Defense Ministry officials) and the lawyers, then later with Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, which tried to get exit permits for the family, the prohibition on the familys meeting with their lawyer was not explained away with the routine excuse of security considerations. In other words, no one claimed that members of the Abu Said family were a threat to Israels security.

Likewise, they didnt pose a risk to Israels security when IDF soldiers shelled an area close to their home while they were sitting outside on the hot summers day of July 13, 2010. There were 17 of them there, watching TV. The first shell injured two women and everyone hurried inside. An ambulance was late in arriving. Naama Abu Said went out to look for her young son and was hit by another shell, apparently a flechette, which sprays lethal iron nails across a wide area. She was killed instantly and another family member was injured.

The state claimed that the shelling targeted people suspected of carrying out hostile activity against the soldiers, thus defining the incident as an act of war.

Damage claims were filed in 2012. In May 2014 a Beer Sheva court announced it would declare the suit void unless an order of probate and a power of attorney were presented to it. Since then, Gisha has been handling the exhaustive bureaucratic battle to obtain an exit permit from Gaza for the Abu Saids so they can arrange those documents with their lawyer.

The latest reply Gisha received from the liaison administration states that the Abu Said familys request doesnt meet the requirements for an exit permit from Gaza for legal purposes. The applicant for such a permit must show exceptional humanitarian circumstances pertaining to the procedure and its consequences, according to the liaison administration.

This procedure was set down in 2013, following a legal battle by human rights groups against the tricks employed by the state to prevent courts from hearing damage claims filed by Gazan residents. The procedure requires proof of unusual humanitarian circumstances before an exit permit from Gaza for legal purposes will be granted, and empowers the liaison administration – in other words, the state, which is being sued – to determine whether unusual humanitarian circumstances have been proven by the plaintiff. The procedure fails to mention the signing of a power of attorney as a valid reason for granting an exit permit from Gaza.

The State Prosecution applauded the 2013 procedure (which allows it to argue at international forums that Gazan residents have free access to Israeli courts). In December 2014 the High Court of Justice recommended that the state be given an opportunity to show that the process works, and rejected a petition arguing that this procedure effectively bars people from leaving Gaza. Last month Gisha filed an administrative petition to the district court, asking that the state allow members of the Abu Said family to sign a power of attorney for their lawyer at the Erez checkpoint.

The bureaucratic war of attrition directed at the Abu Said family is not some bizarre harassment of one family. It is, rather, one of the ways the state pretends to uphold the law and human rights, while in fact deterring and intimidating potential Gazan plaintiffs who were injured in the past or who may be injured in the future by IDF attacks.