Your mother passed away? Please wait here

Applied for a permit to enter Gaza for herself, her daughter and her spouse. Photo by Eman Mohammed

Samah (real name withheld) waited at the Israeli District Coordination Office (DCO) in Hebron, in the West Bank, for more than eight hours. Her mother passed away the day before, and Samah wanted to go to the Gaza Strip with her husband and daughter to participate in the mourning rituals. After waiting for a few hours, Samah called Gisha for help, but the Hebron DCO started processing her request only at 6:00 PM, near the end of business hours. A soldier told Samah that due to the late hour, she would be better off going home and returning the next day. She spent the first day of mourning for her mother on a bench at the DCO, alone.

Samah came back the next day, again asking for a permit to enter Gaza for herself, her daughter and her husband. According to Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) procedures, both Samah and her daughter may receive permits to visit family in exceptional humanitarian circumstances. According to Israel’s criteria, a grandparent’s death warrants passage between Gaza and the West Bank for the grandchild accompanying a parent because the parent is an immediate relative of the deceased. Despite this, the DCO approved the application only for Samah. She was given a permit for one day only, as opposed to the three-day permit usually issued in these kinds of cases. Samah spent most of the day traveling to and from Gaza, alone, without her daughter and without her husband.

Given the shortcomings in the processing of Samah’s application, Gisha wrote a letter of complaint to COGAT: “A permit for a single day, with no accompanying relatives does not serve the purpose of a mourning visit”. The purpose of mourning rituals is to maintain family life, even if minimal, and the time given Samah for the visit was too short. Additionally, the decision not to grant Samah’s daughter a permit contravened COGAT’s own protocols.

COGAT’s response arrived on December 23 “[…] upon receipt of the complaint, an examination was conducted. Deficiencies in the application’s review and approval process were revealed. […] Following the case, refresher sessions were given with respect to the procedures for processing such applications, and all the necessary conclusions for the prevention of delays in the processing of such applications in the future were drawn”.