Supreme Court: State should reconsider its refusal to allow five women students from Gaza to travel to Birzeit University in the West Bank to pursue degrees in gender studies, democracy and law, HCJ 495/12
In an interim decision handed down by President A. Grunis, Justice S. Joubran and Justice N. Solberg, the Supreme Court ordered the state to reconsider its refusal to allow the five petitioners to study at Birzeit University in the West Bank, particularly with respect to petitioners 1 to 4 who are between 37 and 49 years of age. The state was instructed to present its position to the court within 45 days.
The importance of this decision cannot be underestimated. For the first time in 12 years, the Supreme Court has chosen not to accept the blanket ban Israel places on travel by Gaza students to the West Bank for the purpose of pursuing academic studies. In three previous petitions on this issue, the Supreme Court accepted the position of the state without instructing it to reconsider and explain its refusal of any particular petitioner’s request, unlike the decision in the current petition.
At the hearing, Gisha presented three main arguments for allowing the petitioners’ travel for the purpose of studies. First, the petitioners’ desire to study the subjects in question must be understood in the context of their extensive social activism for the advancement of women in the Gaza Strip; women who face problems such as violence, discrimination and social and economic obstacles that impede their gaining independence. The petitioners are active both as private individuals and within civil society organizations. Their education would provide them with additional, diverse tools for continuing their activities and in so doing for advancing the status of women in Gaza.
Second, prohibiting the petitioners from leaving the Gaza Strip for the purpose of attending these academic programs is inconsistent with official policy and with the manner in which crossing procedures are implemented. These procedures are ostensibly intended to serve humanitarian needs. Over the years, and particularly since the flotilla, Israel’s policy toward travel by individuals has changed. Every month, thousands of permits for travel outside the Gaza Strip are granted for various purposes such as trade, culture and sports. Alternatively, Gisha called attention to the fact that even within the confines of a restrictive interpretation of the policy and of travel criteria, the need the petitioners seek to fill using their education, as stated above, is clearly humanitarian.
Third, in its response to the petition, the state declared that the policy in effect toward Gaza includes the desire to facilitate economic development. Gisha pointed to studies showing that it is impossible to promote economic development without promoting and encouraging women’s participation in the economy, as the petitioners seek to do. Gisha noted that all travel permits currently issued for purposes of trade are issued to men.
The state repeated the arguments it made in its response to the petition, namely that there is no humanitarian cause in the petitioners’ case and that Israel’s policy with respect to travel by individuals, including students, has not changed and that this was why it refused to allow the students to travel.