Gisha petitions court against Gaza CLA refusal to allow a physician to attend a visa interview at the American Consulate in order to attend training in the USA
The petitioner, M.J., asked to enter Israel for a few hours to attend a visa interview at the American Consulate in East Jerusalem. The application was made through the appropriate channels, via the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee and transferred for the approval of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration, CLA). M.J.’s first application was approved, but when he arrived at Erez Crossing on the day of the visa interview, he was taken in for security questioning and his permit was rescinded. His second and third applications were never answered, despite a reminder sent by Gisha on January 22, 2017 (Hebrew). As a result, M.J. missed his scheduled interviews and was forced to file a petition (AP 47176-02-17 M.J. v. Ministry of Defense et al.).
The petition argued that the Gaza CLA had defied its duty to respond to M.J.’s requests within a reasonable amount of time and that his application should be approved given the personal and humanitarian circumstances of the case: the permit is sought for several hours only, a US visa cannot be obtained in any other way (as there is no American consulate inside Gaza, and without a visa for a third country, he cannot travel to Egypt via Rafah Crossing when it opens), and, the ultimate purpose of reaching the consulate is to take a certification test and attend professional training in the USA, and later apply the skills learned to the benefit of Gaza’s healthcare system. It was also argued that, according to the recommendation made by the Supreme Court in HCJ 4212/06 Avocats sans Frontieres v. GOC Central Command, the Gaza CLA must respond to requests such as this one within five to seven days prior to the requested exit date, in order to give applicants enough time to appeal the decision.
In its response to the petition, the state acknowledged it had not responded to M.J.’s requests prior to submission of the petition, and stated his application had been denied for security reasons pertaining to him individually, as his entry into Israel posed a security threat. The “security reasons” were not specified, and the state asked to present them to the court ex parte. The request was granted. The state also argued that attending a visa interview at a foreign consulate, in the circumstances described in the petition, does not constitute exceptional humanitarian grounds according to the “ordinary meaning of the term.”
In an urgent hearing held on February 26, 2017, Adv. Orit Kartz, from the South District Attorney’s Office, argued for the state that the CLA and security agents are unable to respond to all the requests in time because more urgent requests, not pertaining to attending visa interviews at foreign consulates, are prioritized. Justice Hani Slutzky reviewed the classified material presented by the state ex parte, and notified the petitioners that the denial stems from M.J.’s contact with terrorist elements. On the recommendation of the court, the petition was erased.
M.J. was surprised and disappointed to hear about the state’s response and the court’s decision. He was unable to attend the visa interview scheduled by the American Consulate for February 28, 2017, and it appears he will not be able to make it to the test, which takes place in April. COGAT, however, continues to boast on its new and improved website about the work it does to strengthen Gaza’s health care system by providing permits for healthcare professionals to enter Israel and participate in medical workshops and training.