Ms. Khalil’s courageous decision
Access restrictions imposed on Gaza often compel residents to make difficult decisions. Ms. Khalil (not her real name) discovered this first-hand when she found herself having to choose between staying in Gaza and thus giving up the possibility of seeing her family in Israel again, or entering Israel and risking not being allowed to return to her husband and children in the Gaza Strip.
Ms. Khalil, an Israeli resident from Jerusalem, married in 1987 and moved to Gaza with her husband. Over the years, she routinely renewed the permit which allowed her to stay in the Strip, but since 2007, was unable to do so for personal reasons. Following Israel's disengagement from Gaza in July 2005, Israeli citizens and residents living in the Strip have been required to apply for this Gaza "stay-permit" every six months in accordance with the divided families procedure (Hebrew). Without the permit, their presence in Gaza is considered unlawful.
On July 26, 2012, we contacted the office responsible for Israeli citizens and residents at the army’s Gaza District Coordination Office on behalf of Ms. Khalil, and requested that her stay-permit be renewed. The request was denied due to "breach of the Major General's Order" – this in spite of the fact that military orders have not applied to the Gaza Strip since the disengagement. In other words, Ms. Khalil had to choose: stay in Gaza without a permit or go to Israel and risk not being permitted to return to the Strip. We repeatedly contacted the authorities in an attempt to spare Ms. Khalil from having to make this choice. Nine months later, with legal support from Gisha, Ms. Khalil chose, in spite of the risks, to enter Israel and continue the legal battle from there.
On April 28, 2013, Ms. Khalil arrived at Erez Crossing. After being held up at the crossing for several hours, she was interrogated by plain-clothes officers who informed her that if she entered Israel, she would be arrested by the police for being illegally present in Gaza. She was told she should instead get a Palestinian ID card and obtain a permit to visit Israel as a Palestinian resident. (Doing so would result in her losing her Israeli residency status.)
Ms. Khalil refused to abandon her plan to enter Israel and was ultimately allowed through Erez. She was ordered to wait on the Israeli side of the crossing for a police car which would take her for further questioning. However, the police car never arrived and in the evening, after a long and exhausting day, she was finally told she was free to leave.
After Ms. Khalil entered Israel, Gisha worked to coordinate her return to Gaza. On June 5, 2013, we received a letter from the military approving Ms. Khalil's return to the Strip. No police interviews, no unnecessary delays or conditions. Ms. Khalil's return to Gaza was suddenly approved without a hitch. It turns out that in some cases, it’s easier for Israeli residents to enter Gaza than it is for them to enter Israel.