The structural inequalities inherent to the occupation are manifest in Palestinians’ restricted access to family, livelihood, education and healthcare; but also in the freedom to dream, to learn, to make mistakes. For teenagers in Gaza and the West Bank, these freedoms are exceedingly limited.
Fadi (not his real name) is 17-years-old. He was born in Gaza and moved to the West Bank with his parents and siblings at the age of eight. Earlier this year, Fadi graduated high school in the West Bank. In April, following an argument with his parents, he made a brash but not uncommon teenage decision to run away from home. He decided to go to Gaza, where his extended family lives. Unlike teenagers worldwide who don’t live under occupation, his decision involved submitting an application for a travel permit from Israel.
Though thousands of Palestinian permit applicants wait for weeks, even months, for a response from Israeli authorities, if they receive one at all, Fadi’s application was processed and approved at lightning speed. He was granted a permit to enter Gaza the very next day – without the consent of his parents, and regardless of his being a minor, who did not, at the time, realize the far-reaching implications of his entrance into Gaza.
Upon his arrival in the Strip, Fadi understood immediately that he had made a mistake and asked to return to his family in the West Bank. But here’s the catch. Israel’s restrictions on travel between the parts of the occupied Palestinian territory are not imposed symmetrically. It is relatively simple to relocate from the West Bank to Gaza; the return trip is an entirely different question.
Fadi and his family submitted an application for him to return to the West Bank in May. They received no answer from Israel for more than three months. During this difficult time, Fadi moved between the homes of his relatives in Gaza, who struggled to support him financially. A respiratory problem he suffers from became worse without the care of his doctors and parents in the West Bank. As the months went by, he grew increasingly homesick and incredibly fearful for his future.
In August, after the family contacted us, we submitted another application on his behalf, which the Israeli authorities denied on the grounds that his request “did not meet the criteria” set by Israel for travel between the Gaza and the West Bank. Only once we submitted a petition to the court demanding he be allowed to move back home, did the state reverse its initial decision, and Fadi’s application was approved. Why the Israeli authorities would process a permit application by a minor so quickly in the first place, without consulting his parents, when they know full well how difficult it would be for him to obtain a permit to exit the Strip and return home, is incomprehensible.
Fadi exited the Strip today to reunite with his parents and siblings at long last, almost six months after entering Gaza.