It is very difficult to travel from Gaza. That is no secret. Gisha’s position on those travel restrictions is also well-known. But once in a while even we are surprised by decisions and don’t believe the things we find ourselves having to argue over. And somehow, those things almost always hide behind the most mundane-seeming titles. Introducing “the response procedure”.
To make a long story short, this is a procedure that determines how long the state can take to respond to Palestinians’ requests to exit or enter the Gaza Strip. According to the procedure, requests to travel between Gaza and the West Bank are to be submitted no later than 14 workdays before the requested date of travel, and a response is to be provided five days before that date at the latest, to enable the applicant to seek legal recourse if necessary. It is a seemingly minor but vital procedure, especially when you take into account that travel between Gaza and the West Bank is limited in most cases to “exceptional humanitarian cases”, which usually means exceptional tragedies or conversely family weddings. In both examples, time is of the essence. A person who wants to travel from Gaza for her mother’s open-heart surgery or for her brother’s wedding, can’t afford to lose time waiting for a response to her request.
This procedure, the need for which seems obvious, was only drafted following legal proceedings in the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ) in 2006. It was never published – a severe administrative failing – and few know of its existence, even though the procedure could directly impact their lives. We recently discovered by chance that the Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO) decided to shelve it and “conduct administrative work to develop a new procedure”. Even though there is no new procedure yet, and despite the obvious need for reasonable response times to travel requests, it turns out that the DCO has been working without a procedure for a whole year. Palestinians’ requests go unanswered, sometimes until the requested date of travel passes. People find themselves unable to travel for a relative’s wedding or be at their relative’s side during complicated medical procedures, though they are technically eligible to travel according to the criteria. Even worse, without a definitive response, the abiility to pursue further legal recourse can also be delayed or obstructed. This has been the situation for a whole year.
On March 11, we petitioned the HCJ to order the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (which oversees the work of the DCO) to institute an interim arrangement until the administrative work is completed. The state is required to respond on April 26. Meanwhile, the people who are supposed to decide whether a person can see her family or not can continue to take their sweet time.