When the Palestinian Supreme Court in Ramallah issued a new ruling on 22.10.2010, commentators were quick to declare a breakthrough for the 35,000 Palestinian residents who live in the West Bank but whose registered addresses are in Gaza and who therefore live under the threat of deportation. The ruling ordered the Palestinian Interior Ministry to carry out all the necessary procedures to change these residents’ addresses from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.
According to the Maan news agency, the ruling “will allow thousands of Palestinians to move freely within the West Bank”. It seems, that Maan (along with one of the members of the Turkel Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident), believed that the Palestinian Authority, rather than Israel, controls the Palestinian population registry and is therefore authorized to change addresses and inform Israel thereof.
The Palestinian Interior Ministry, which issues identity cards after receiving Israeli permission, has long stopped giving the Israeli army notice of address changes from Gaza to the West Bank. This is due to the fact that since 2000, Israel has refused to register changes in address of Palestinians who moved from Gaza to the West Bank. Equipped with new military orders, Israeli soldiers even arrest and deport such residents, meaning many of them restrict their movement within the West Bank out of fear they will be arrested at a checkpoint and deported to Gaza.
But the Palestinian Supreme Court ruling stated that under the Oslo Accords, the authority to change addresses was transferred to the PA which is required to update its records and then inform Israel of the change.
And that is indeed what the Palestinian Interior Ministry did in the last few weeks. At the request of around 1500 enthusiastic applicants, the Ministry changed their addresses in its registry from Jabaliya to Nablus and from Rafah to Ramallah. As per the court ruling, the Interior Ministry then sent approximately 1500 change of address notices to the Israeli District Coordination Office in Beit El.
However, when the Israeli coordination officials informed the Palestinian Interior Ministry that they refused to change the addresses in the Israeli computer file, the Palestinian Interior Ministry returned its records to their previous status: from Nablus back to Jabaliya and from Ramallah back to Rafah. It appears that the PA can print any identity card it wants, but only the Israeli army can decide whether a resident is allowed to move within the West Bank and avoid deportation. The soldier at a checkpoint takes his orders from his commander and not the Palestinian court. When he decides whether to deport someone or not he relies on the Israeli registry and not the Palestinian.
The Palestinian Interior Ministry therefore decided it is better for residents to carry papers approved by the one who controls the borders – the State of Israel. And so control of the borders continues to mean control of the Palestinian population registry common to Gaza and the West Bank.