Gisha demands COGAT publish exceptions to travel restrictions for Christian residents of Gaza ahead of Christmas
On November 8, 2015, the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories (COGAT) sent Gisha the current Closure Permit Status document (Hebrew), detailing exceptions to restrictions on freedom of movement made for the Christian population of the West Bank, ahead of the coming Christmas holiday. According to the document, Christians would be given Israeli entry permits without a quota or minimum age requirements. The exceptions would be in force for three months – October 25, 2015 to January 20, 2016.
COGAT did not make a similar announcement regarding the Christian population of the Gaza Strip, contrary to the practice of previous years, when it made sure to publicize exceptions to travel restrictions imposed on Gaza residents, including permits to enter Israel and the West Bank during the holidays. So, for example, exactly one year ago, COGAT announced “gestures” for Gaza’s Christian population, which included issuing 700 permits to enter Israel and the West Bank over a period of one month, and 50 permits to travel abroad from Gaza via Allenby Bridge.
In view of the fact that the current Permit Status document did not include exceptions for Gaza Christians, Gisha wrote to COGAT (Hebrew) requesting that it make such exceptions and publish them as quickly as possible. Gisha pointed out that making these exceptions would be in keeping with Israel’s recognition of the right to freedom of worship for Gaza’s Christians, which is, of course, identical to the right to worship to which West Bank Christians are entitled. Gisha asked that the exceptions be published immediately so that Gaza residents could plan their holidays in advance.
In a response from November 19, 2015 (Hebrew), COGAT wrote that the matter was currently under review and that the suggestions raised by Gisha would be brought to the attention of the relevant officials.
However, on November 29, 2015, Gisha received a copy of an updated version of the Permit Status document (Hebrew), which, surprisingly, did not include any exceptions for Gaza Christians, despite the fact the Christian holidays were to begin soon after, on December 19, 2015. As a result, on November 30, 2015, Gisha sent another letter to COGAT (Hebrew) demanding that it urgently publish the exceptions made for Christian residents of Gaza.