Gaza Students to Israeli High Court: Israel Still Controls Gaza – and Cannot Sever it from the West Bank

Today, March 5, 2006 – Gisha, Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and Bituna issued a response in Israel’s High Court arguing that Israel continues to control the Gaza Strip and continues to owe duties to the civilian population there –despite the "disengagement". The response was issued as part of petitions by ten students from Gaza seeking to reach their occupational therapy studies at Bethlehem University, the only Palestinian institution to certify occupational therapists. Israel’s military has imposed a sweeping ban on travel from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, refusing to even consider requests from students seeking to reach their studies there.

The State of Israel argues that Gaza is a "foreign country" that can be severed from the West Bank by preventing Gazans from reaching the West Bank. The state also argues that it owes no duties to Gaza residents – despite Israeli commitments in the Oslo Accords and other agreements to recognize Gaza and the West Bank as a single territorial unit.

Today’s response filed in court reveals Israel’s continuing control of Gaza, including control of the borders crossings, the skies, the territorial waters, the population registry and the taxation system.

In its position before the court, the State of Israel compares passage between Gaza and the West Bank to passage between Israel and Syria, meaning that Gaza residents have no right to reach the West Bank. Gisha argues that this position ignores Israel’s commitment to permit travel between these areas. Moreover, Israel’s continuing control of Gaza (as opposed to Syria) carries with it a corresponding duty to facilitate humanitarian aid and economic development. Comparing Gaza to Syria reveals the illogic of the state’s position:

Israel does not close Syria’s borders, preventing supplies of medicine and baby food.
A Syrian university doesn’t need Israeli approval to bring in an Irish lecturer to teach occupational therapy
A Syrian citizen does not need Israeli permission to add her newborn baby to the Syrian population registry.
Israel doesn’t collect taxes in Syria and doesn’t decide whether Syrian civil servants will receive their salaries.
Syrian NGOs don’t need Israeli permission to receive customs exemptions for donated goods.
A Syrian fisherman can fish along the Syrian coast, without an Israeli license and without risking being shot by the Israeli navy.
The Syrian government doesn’t need Israeli permission to build an airport and seaport and to import and export goods and bring people through them.
But in Gaza, Israel controls all these areas – restricting the lives of Gaza residents

The control harms the health and education systems as well as Gaza’s economy. It includes:

Complete control over the entrance of goods (including frequent closures that prevent supply of basic goods).
Nearly complete control over the entrance of foreigners.
Complete control over the population registry: residency and ability to enter Gaza.
Control over the ability of NGOs to receive foreign donations of goods, via control over customs duties.
Control over the salaries of public servants in Gaza, via control of taxes.
Israel has not ended its control of Gaza, but it is trying to "disengage" from its responsibility to the Palestinian residents there, who cannot operate civilian institutions without Israeli approval. Israel is obligated to permit provision of humanitarian services in Gaza, including travel to the West Bank for students seeking to learn crucial professions such as medicine and occupational therapy.

The state calls West Bank universities "hotbed for growing terrorists" – ignoring the common Israeli and Palestinian interest in allowing young people to learn the skills necessary to build a peaceful, prosperous society.

Along with Gisha: Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement, which prepared the petitions, two Palestinian nonprofit organizations – both of whom need the services of trained occupational therapists for their care of the community in Gaza – joined the petitions: Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and Bitona for Community Development. The Mezan Center for Human Rights provided the students with legal assistance. B’tselem assisted in providing factual materials for the case.

The student-petitioners: "we call on anyone who is listening, who believes in freedom of movement and the right to education, to help us reach our studies – and to help the disabled Gaza residents who need the services we will learn to provide."