Despite Supreme Court recommendation: State upholds refusal to allow gender studies students to travel from Gaza to the West Bank

July 25, 2012. Despite a court order to reconsider, Israel's Defense Ministry today announced that it will not back down on its refusal to allow five female students from Gaza to reach their studies in the West Bank. The announcement effectively returns the matter to the purview of the Supreme Court, which will be asked to rule on the case. Because the students' classes at Birzeit University start on August 22nd, the petitioners will ask the court to hear the case quickly.

The state’s response was given in a petition filed by the human rights organizations Gisha and Al Mezan on behalf of five students from Gaza who are enrolled in gender studies, democracy and law programs at Birzeit University in the West Bank. In a hearing held in May, the state admitted that there were no individual security allegations against the five students, and that the refusal was part of a blanket ban on travel for all students from Gaza who wish to study in the West Bank. At that hearing, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the state to reconsider its refusal.

Today, the state announced that General Eitan Dangot, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, decided not to allow the students to travel, citing “substantial political and security reasons”.

Israel controls all access routes to the West Bank, which is why students from Gaza require Israel's approval in order to reach universities in the West Bank. The blanket ban is a breach of Israel’s obligations under international law. It is also inconsistent with Israel’s commitment under the Oslo Accords to recognize the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as a single territorial unit.

Since 2000, Israel has prevented Palestinian students from Gaza from traveling to the West Bank for the purpose of reaching academic studies. One of the reasons cited for the ban is that students fit a high “risk profile”. The ban is sweeping and also applies to individuals against whom there are no security allegations and who receive permits to travel to Israel and to the West Bank under other circumstances. Despite this, and despite a previous recommendation by the court to establish a mechanism for considering exceptions to the policy, the ban continues.

Master's programs in gender studies and democracy are currently unavailable in the Gaza Strip, so studying in the West Bank is the only option for the four Master’s students, all veteran women’s rights activists in Gaza. The fifth student seeks a degree in law. The refusal of their request is particularly perplexing considering the recent relaxation of travel restrictions; each month, Israel permits more than 4,000 entries of Gaza residents into Israel and the West Bank.

According to Nomi Heger, Director of Gisha’s Legal Department: “This is the second time the Supreme Court has recommended that the state consider exceptions to the ban on travel by students from Gaza to the West Bank, and the second time the state has refused.  The state's response shows no indication that it did in fact reconsider its position, as ordered by the court”.

Issam Yunis, Director of Al Mezan: “The Israeli authorities’ insistence on not allowing the students to reach their studies, despite the HCJ’s recommendation to reconsider this decision, presents another challenge for human rights organizations in their struggle against Israel's human rights violations in the Palestinian territory, including the right to freedom of movement”.

Click here to read the court petition (Hebrew) and here for the state’s response (English translation).

Click here for information about the five students.

For info sheet: Impact of Separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on Higher Education.

Play the student in the interactive game: Safe Passage.