Israel Announces: No Easing for Travel of People Into and Out of Gaza
Thur., July 8, 2010 – The Supreme Court yesterday rejected a petition submitted on behalf of Ms. Fatma Shatif, a human rights lawyer from Gaza, seeking to attend her Master’s studies in human rights and democracy in the West Bank. In a short verdict, the judges wrote that they had decided not to intervene in Israel’s policy, thereby permitting the continuation of the sweeping ban imposed by Israel since 2000, on the passage of students from Gaza to the West Bank for the purposes of reaching academic studies. Earlier in the proceedings, in its response to the petition, the State informed the Court that even under its “new” Gaza policy, there would not be an easing of restrictions on the passage of people to and from Gaza and that Israel will continue to permit travel only in “humanitarian and exceptional” cases, mainly relating to medical needs.
"It is not clear what Israel gains by preventing a talented young lawyer, against whom it makes no security claim, from deepening her understanding of human rights and therefore contributing to the development of a robust Palestinian civil society", said Dr. Nomi Heger of Gisha, who argued the case. "I regret that the court declined to follow its own case law and evaluate Ms. Sharif’s request in the framework which the court itself established in 2007, namely the need to consider exceptions to the general ban".
Ms. Sharif, who studied law in Gaza, currently works as a lawyer at the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, a non-partisan organization whose goal is to promote human rights and democracy in the Gaza Strip. Ms. Sharif has worked for the last five years to defend human rights, including in a project to defend women against violence at the Center for Women’s Legal Research and Consulting. Since there is no relevant academic program in Gaza, Ms. Sharif enrolled in studies at Birzeit University, with the intention of returning to Gaza at the end of her studies, where she has a job waiting for her at Al Mezan. The Israeli authorities refused her request, on the grounds that she does not meet Israel’s criteria for exit from Gaza – “humanitarian and exceptional instances", only.
Ms. Fatma Sharif: "Exchange of knowledge and expertise is critical to the self-fulfillment of people, in order to develop civil society in Gaza, especially where the subject is democracy and human rights. There will be no real improvement in Gaza until all persons – including students, families, workers, and patients – are able to travel freely".
Since 2000 Israel has imposed a sweeping ban on the exit of Palestinian students from the Gaza Strip to study at Palestinian universities in the West Bank. A Supreme Court ruling from 2007 told the State to consider allowing access for students from Gaza wishing to study in the West Bank in "cases that would have positive human consequences". In today’s hearing, however, the Defense Ministry admitted that since the ruling was handed down, Israel has not granted a single student from Gaza permission to travel to the West Bank for purposes of study.
The Defense Ministry’s written statement clarifies that the June 20 Cabinet decision on a change in Gaza policy is limited to relaxing restrictions on goods entering Gaza. Writing on behalf of the Defense Ministry, the State Attorney’s office clarifies that the Cabinet decision in no way expands the categories of people permitted to travel but rather will streamline procedures for processing travel requests: "Regarding passage for the population, the announcement [of June 20] did not say anything about expanding the current policy, which permits entrance in humanitarian cases, with emphasis on urgent medical cases … To be clear: this decision does nothing to expand the criteria, and it certainly does not permit passage for purposes of Master’s degree studies".