Easing for Ramadan: Some family visits and more worshippers

Visits with first-degree relatives possible even if there is no wedding, funeral or serious illness. Photo: Karl Schembri

Visits with first-degree relatives possible even if there is no wedding, funeral or serious illness. Photo: Karl Schembri

June 21, 2015. Sources in the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee told Gisha that they were informed by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) last Thursday of forthcoming changes that would make travel between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank easier over the month of Ramadan. COGAT has not yet officially announced the changes on its website or Facebook page. It was only today that Gaza residents who meet the provisional criteria were informed about the changes and could begin filing applications. According to the Palestinian Civil Affairs committee, these are the criteria for travel during Ramadan:

Family visits – the good news is that during Ramadan, Gaza residents may visit first-degree relatives even in the absence of a wedding, funeral or serious illness (the usual stipulation). The not so good news is that over the month, only a quota of 50 families may be allowed to meet, only people aged 50 or older would be allowed to visit relatives in Israel, and only those over age 60 can visit a relative in the West Bank. We recall that according to the CIA World Factbook, only 6% of Gaza’s population is over 55. According to a survey commissioned by Gisha, while roughly 31% of Gaza residents have relatives in Israel or the West Bank, only 7% have first-degree relatives in the West Bank and less than 1% in Israel. In other words, what sounds like an easing, will hardly impact a fraction of the population.

Prayer at al-Aqsa Mosque – the quota for worshippers allowed to travel to al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers has been increased to 400, instead of 200. The age criterion has been lowered from 60 to 50. Last Friday, about 400 Gaza residents traveled to al-Aqsa, in addition to 100 UNRWA employees. The Civil Affairs Committee says that there are about 10,000 people on the waiting list to travel to Friday prayers irrespective of the Ramadan changes. Most will not get to do so in the foreseeable future.

The IDF Spokesperson website notes that 800 Gaza residents would be allowed to travel for prayers every Friday. Gisha found out that the Palestinians were initially told that 800 people would be allowed to travel for prayers over four days each week, but the military reneged for unknown reasons.

On June 2, Gisha sent a letter (Hebrew) to COGAT asking for extended criteria for travel out of Gaza for family visits during Ramadan. COGAT did not answer the letter. When we called, they said they were working on it.

In the meantime, this Tuesday, 30 more students are expected to travel through Erez Crossing to their universities abroad. From December 2014 to last week, 145 students travelled through Erez.