A love too far away

The “coronavirus closure” imposed by Israel on travel to and from Gaza, now in its 12th month, has entangled countless people in an insurmountable bureaucratic maze. One example is A., a resident of Gaza who has tried to travel back to his family for more than a year. A remote Valentine’s Day story.

Illustration: Ruth Gwily

The pandemic, and ensuing movement restrictions, continue to disrupt the lives of many around the world. Couples have been separated and families split apart across countries and continents. With time, some people have managed to reunite with their loved ones. For countless people in Gaza, however, pandemic restrictions on international travel meet longstanding policies blocking travel, and layers of bureaucracy, often from multiple countries at once.

Both Egypt and Israel have a responsibility to enable travel to and from Gaza. For twelve months now, under the pretext of fighting the spread of the pandemic, Israel has enforced an even stricter lockdown on Erez Crossing, between the Strip and Israel, than it enforced before. The few who were eligible to travel via Erez Crossing before the coronavirus closure was imposed have been prevented from doing so. Rafah Crossing, on the Egyptian border, was opened last week until further notice, but until that point had only operated on a handful of days over the past year.

One of the people who has been separated from his beloved is A. Originally from Gaza, A. has lived and worked in the Gulf for the past 10 years. In January 2020, he traveled to the Strip to visit relatives. Ever since, Israeli authorities have blocked his every attempt to return to his home, work, wife, and two children. A. also tried to exit Gaza via Rafah Crossing, on the few days it was opened by Egypt over the course of the year, but to no avail.

In October, Gisha contacted Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), requesting that A. be allowed to travel abroad via Erez and the Allenby Bridge border crossing into Jordan. An exasperating exchange ensued, with A. being asked to produce an assortment of documents from the Jordanian Ministry of Interior and told he must wait for coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel to resume. In January, COGAT nonetheless denied A.’s permit application on the grounds that it “failed to meet criteria” for travel, though his case does in fact meet COGAT’s policy on travel from Gaza abroad by individuals with foreign residency status.

On January 31, we contacted COGAT again. A.’s return had become urgent given his residency visa in the Gulf is set to expire on February 23. Israel closed its land crossings with Jordan in late January, including Allenby Bridge Crossing, and severely limited travel, even for its own citizens, at its international airport. On February 3, COGAT again denied our request, noting that Allenby Bridge was only open for exceptional humanitarian cases, and remarking: “it has been decided that there is no room to make an exception to existing policy in [the applicant’s] matter.”

Israel’s conduct in A.’s case violates his basic rights, including the rights to livelihood and to family life. It is also typical of Israel’s disavowal of its obligations as occupying power.

On February 4, Gisha petitioned the Jerusalem District Court on A.’s behalf, demanding that A. be allowed to exit the Strip as soon as Allenby reopens. Since then, Egypt has opened Rafah Crossing and A. hopes to be able to finally make the trip through Egypt. Had Israel recognized its obligations to protect his basic rights, A. could have traveled abroad on one of the many days when Allenby and the airport were open, and returned to his beloved, his family and work, long ago.

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