The unbearable lightness of imposing a security block
February 12, 2014. Some 1,500 Christians live in the Gaza Strip today. Every year, on Christmas and Easter, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) allows members of Gaza’s Christian community to enter Israel and the West Bank, according to a fixed quota. Every holiday, W.T. submits an application for himself and his family to travel from Gaza to visit Christian holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. His applications had been approved without incident over the years, until suddenly, in 2010, when the family’s request was rejected without any explanation.
It was only after Gisha intervened with the army that some of their requests to travel were once again approved. But on the occasions that they applied and were rejected, the T. family had to contact Gisha in the hope that we would be able to help them travel from Gaza. In most cases, our intervention bore fruit, and the family was allowed to exit. In other cases, either our requests were not processed in time, or the army did not retract the refusal until after the holiday. Eventually, applications for W.’s wife and son were approved, while only W. himself was denied.
When we asked why W.’s applications were rejected out of hand and approved only after Gisha’s intervention, we discovered that he was listed with a security preclusion. After several years of helping W. and his family, it was clear to us that security officials, when pressed to examine his case more closely, had eventually allowed him to travel. When he applied for a permit last Easter, however, the refusal was not retracted.
Ahead of last Christmas, to prevent W.’s application from falling through the cracks, we contacted the military early, asking it to consider the request before the holiday. After no response had arrived and with Christmas fast approaching, we contacted the State Attorney’s Office, stating that we would be compelled to take legal action if W.’s application were not approved in time. It was only when the list of members of the Christian community that had been approved for exit for the holiday was published that we found out that W. would be allowed to exit, along with his family.
This is just one of many cases in which Palestinians are branded with a security block arbitrarily, and, it sometimes seems, en masse, resulting in a severe violation of their right to freedom of movement. All too often, following our intervention, by phone and correspondence registering complaint to state officials, and sometimes after the filing of a court petition, the security preclusion turns out to be completely unjustified, or insufficient for denying the application.