In a press release published July of 2015, Commander of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman, announced a new policy intended to reduce entry into the Gaza by Israeli civilians, thereby further undermining the already limited ability of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel to see their relatives who live in the Strip.
The decision came about after it was made public that two Israeli citizens had recently disappeared in the Strip, as well as the “security situation in the Gaza Strip.” The policy was said to be temporary and that Israeli citizens would still be able to obtain permits to enter the Gaza Strip in specific cases, as per humanitarian need. This expression is code for a situation in which people may ask for a permit only if a relative is dying, has died, or is getting married.
Even before the new policy was announced, Palestinian citizens with relatives in Gaza were only able to ask to visit them in extreme humanitarian conditions. In recent months, however, they have discovered that they cannot get permits even when these conditions do exist. Gaza entry permits have been given only in the most extreme cases, and even then, only after legal efforts that include correspondence with the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), intervention by the State Attorney’s Office, or the courts. Figures show that in the five months preceding the new ban, the monthly average number of entries into Gaza by Israelis was 337, whereas in the five months since the ban, the monthly average has been about 138 — a 60 percent drop.
In fact, the cases in which permits are actually granted, yet no companions are allowed to join, are the ones that fully expose the cruelty of this “new” policy, which is, incidentally, still in effect today. Recently, the military denied a request made by R., a 20-year-old woman, to enter Gaza along with her husband and their six-week-old infant son, to attend her brother’s wedding. Only concerted legal efforts by Gisha finally resulted in the Gaza District Coordination Offices (DCO) agreeing to issue another permit — for the baby.
In another case, S., a 38-year-old woman, asked to enter Gaza with her eight children, ages 1 to 17, to visit her ailing, elderly father. The application included a report by a social worker, which stated that S. could not leave her children with their father, as he suffers from a serious medical condition. Still, the DCO agreed to issue a permit only for S., not her children — not even the infant. S. had to make an impossible choice, go to Gaza to see her ailing father, perhaps for the last time (and leave her children without care or supervision for several days), or stay in Israel and miss what may be her last chance to see her father.
If the daily fight for the right to see relatives in Gaza even when applicants meet the most stringent conditions were not enough, COGAT recently decided to tighten restrictions even further, issuing a new clarification according to which Palestinian grandparents in Israel will not be able to apply for permits to visit their grandchildren in Gaza — not even in cases of weddings or funerals. The new restriction applies neither to grandparents from the West Bank nor grandparents from Gaza who wish to visit grandchildren in Israel or the West Bank, only grandparents who are citizens or residents of Israel. In their case, even the most urgent humanitarian requests will not be heeded.
Considering the fact that the policy — which has become permanent — was officially predicated on security considerations, one must wonder how tearing apart a mother from her children serves state security? How is Israel’s security bolstered by her passing up a chance to visit her ailing father because she cannot leave her children behind? What sort of security risk is posed by a one-year-old infant or a ten-year-old child who join their parents to visit the grandparents? What security purpose is served by denying a grandparent the rare chance of visiting their granddaughter, and seeing her — perhaps for the first time — on her wedding day? Are these cases not “humanitarian” enough? How does one distinguish which cases are considered sufficiently “humanitarian” to afford people the basic right to see their relatives?
It is difficult to understand why these further restrictions are needed. The military offers no explanations and feels no need to justify its actions even when it violates the fundamental rights of thousands of Israeli citizens with relatives in Gaza. The policy has no security justification. It is nothing but disregard for human beings, and as such, it must be immediately rescinded. The sooner, the better.
Attorney Michal Luft is a lawyer at Gisha, a human rights organization that promotes freedom of moment for Palestinians.
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