Petition to the Supreme Court to allow Fatma Sharif to travel to her studies in democracy and human rights in the West Bank, Petition HCJ4906/10
Since 2000 Israel has imposed a comprehensive ban on the travel of Palestinians from Gaza for the purpose of studying at Palestinian universities in the West Bank. This is in defiance of the 2007 recommendation of the High Court of Justice, according to which the granting of travel permits to students from Gaza who wish to study in the West Bank should be considered in cases where the outcome might lead to positive humanitarian consequences. Since the recommendation by the High Court, Israel has not granted a single travel permit to any student who is a resident of Gaza to enter Israel in order to reach the West Bank.
Fatma Sharif, a 29-year-old Palestinian lawyer living in Gaza was accepted to Birzeit University’s Master’s degree program in democracy and human rights on May 26, 2010. Fatma works as a lawyer for the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, a non-partisan organization whose two main objectives are to promote human rights and democracy in Gaza and to address violations of human rights. Fatma had hoped to deepen her knowledge of human rights and acquire the necessary tools to further promote awareness of human rights issues in Gaza. Due to the lack of relevant academic programs in Gaza, Fatma enrolled in the democracy and human rights program at Birzeit University, which is near Ramallah, and to her delight was subsequently accepted. From the start it had been Fatma’s intention to return to Gaza and to her position at Al Mezan, which supported her desire to develop her skills.
Fatma appealed to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in Gaza as early as the 7th of June, 2010, for help in submitting her request for a travel permit out of Gaza to the Israeli authorities. The Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee denied her request on the grounds that the Israeli authorities refuse to deal with these types of appeals. As such, on the 8th of June 2010, Gisha submitted a request for coordination of travel from Gaza to the West Bank on Fatma’s behalf to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) as well as to the Gaza District Coordination Office. The Gaza District Coordination Office’s response from June 23rd asserted that the request had been denied because it did not meet the criteria for travel.
As a result, Gisha filed a petition to the Supreme Court on June 30, 2010 in which it sets forth that denying Fatma’s travel violates her right to education, freedom of movement and livelihood; and this violation severely impairs the petitioner’s ability to significantly contribute to her society upon completion of her studies. The State’s response from June 6, 2010 asserts that the policy regarding travel for residents of Gaza to the West Bank is limited to cases that are either humanitarian or extraordinary in nature, with an emphasis on urgent medical cases, and further that academic studies do not, in and of themselves, provide an adequate humanitarian justification for the granting of the request. In addition, the State’s response clarifies the Security Cabinet’s decision of June 20, 2010 regarding the change in Israeli policy towards Gaza, asserting that the shift in policy pertains only to the passage of commercial goods into Gaza and does not expand the criteria by which to examine requests for travel of individual residents.
In the July 7th verdict, the Supreme Court justices chose not to intervene in the State’s decision to prevent Fatma Sharif’s from reaching her studies in the West Bank. The Supreme Court also chose not to address the general policy regarding travel of Gaza residents who wish to study in the West Bank, and as such, the verdict in effect sanctioned the state’s decision to systematically prohibit the travel of students from Gaza to the West Bank for the purposes of academic study.