For the first time in 12 years: Israeli Supreme Court orders military to reconsider application of Gaza-West Bank student ban

Wednesday, May 23, 2012: Israel's Supreme Court today ordered the Israeli military to reconsider its refusal to allow four female Master's students from Gaza to reach their studies at Birzeit University in the West Bank. The decision marks the first time in 12 years that the court has indicated a willingness to intervene in the sweeping ban on Palestinian students from Gaza pursuing studies at Palestinian universities in the West Bank. The petition was submitted by the human rights organizations Gisha and Al Mezan.

In three previous petitions, the Supreme Court refrained from taking action on the student ban, which was imposed in October 2000. This morning, however, the judges ordered the state to update, within 45 days, as to whether it will reverse its refusal to allow passage for the Master's students, who are long-time women's rights activists seeking degrees in gender studies and democracy and human rights. The court took no action on the decision not to allow a fifth and academically outstanding student, Loujain Alzaeem, to reach her law school in the West Bank. At the hearing, the attorney for the state acknowledged that it has no security claim against any of the petitioners, but rather rejected their requests to travel as part of a comprehensive ban.

Adv. Nomi Heger, Director of Gisha's Legal Department, commented: "Today's decision is a victory for common sense. We hope that the Israeli military will internalize the senselessness of sweeping restrictions on freedom of movement – especially for outstanding women seeking to promote women's rights in Gaza".

Al Mezan Director General Issam Younis described the court’s decision as "an encouraging step towards ending the arbitrary and collective punishment of students from the Gaza Strip, and enabling them to realize their right to attend Palestinian universities in the West Bank".

Israel controls all points of access to the West Bank, so students from Gaza wishing to reach universities there require Israeli permission. The comprehensive travel ban violates Israeli obligations under the international law of occupation as well as an Israeli commitment, in the framework of the Oslo Accords, to respect the integrity of Gaza and the West Bank as a single territorial unit.

Because there are no programs for gender studies or democracy and human rights in Gaza, the only academic option for the four Master's students is to study in the West Bank. Each month, Israel issues more than 3,000 exit permits for Palestinians from Gaza traveling to Israel and the West Bank, reflecting somewhat relaxed criteria for travel as compared with the past five years. However, since 2000 Israel has prevented students from Gaza from reaching their studies in the West Bank, claiming that they fit a "risk profile". The ban is sweeping and applies even to students against whom the Israeli authorities raise no security claim. It is applied despite a 2007 recommendation by the Supreme Court that some students be permitted to study, in cases that are likely to have "positive human implications".

The decision was given by Supreme Court justices A. Grunis, S. Jubran and N. Solberg.

Click here to join our campaign to let the students study.
For more information about the restrictions on access to higher education in the West Bank, click here or play the role of the student in Gisha's Safe Passage Game (www.spg.org.il).