According to international law, a Palestinian resident whose registered address is in the West Bank has the right to return to the West Bank. This is also one of the “exceptional humanitarian cases” in which passage from Gaza to the West Bank is permitted according to Israel’s strict criteria, which typically prevents movement between the two areas.

The petitioners in the 16 petitions Gisha filed in relation to this issue in 2019 resided in Gaza, but their address is registered in the West Bank, in some cases matching the address of one or both of their parents, in others following a change of address procedure in the Israeli-controlled Palestinian population registry. Some of the petitioners were women with a registered address in the West Bank who had decided to relocate with their children, also registered in the West Bank, in search of a better life. Others were men with families, who were unemployed or facing financial hardship and wanted to move to the West Bank to work and provide for their families, even at the cost of being separated from them.

The petitioners in these cases submitted permit applications and received an identical answer: the application is denied for security reasons which cannot be divulged.

The petitions (Hebrew) Gisha filed on behalf of these men and women, and in some cases the children as well, challenged these laconic decisions, arguing that the applications meet Israeli criteria for Palestinian travel from Gaza to the West Bank. Gisha also argued that the security-based refusals were issued perfunctorily, as part of an alarming trend that sees applications denied on baseless security grounds as a means of thwarting Palestinian movement between Gaza and the West Bank, even in cases where Israel’s policy should ostensibly allow it.

This conduct is a brazen violation of the principles of administrative law – the obligation to provide grounds for a decision, as well as the petitioners’ right to a hearing –  and unreasonably and disproportionately infringes on the petitioners’ rights to freedom of movement, livelihood and personal autonomy. Gisha also argued that the respondents’ decision was unreasonable since it blindly adopted the position of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), disregarding other, no less important considerations, including Israel’s ability to initiate enforcement proceedings against the petitioners after they exit Gaza if necessary. For all of the above reasons, and in view of the severe violation of the petitioners’ rights, we argued that the administrative decisions were flawed and should be revoked.

In 12 out of the 16 petitions, the state withdrew the security refusal and allowed the petitioners to travel to the West Bank. In half of these cases, the security ban was removed immediately, and in the other half, after the petitioners were subjected to a security interview or interrogation. Following the removal of the ban, the petitions were deleted, and the petitioners were able to relocate to the West Bank.

The fact that the state retracted its allegations of a security risk associated with petitioners’ passage to the West Bank in 75% of the cases brought by Gisha in 2019 raises serious questions about the credibility of the security grounds for denying applications that meet Israel’s criteria for travel by Palestinians in the first place. The ease with which fundamental rights are violated by raising the “security ban” argument is a source of great concern. Only those who have resources and mental fortitude are able to challenge decisions made by security officials in court. Everyone else who has had their application denied for “security reasons” is forced to simply accept the fact that they have been blocked for travel with no explanation and no time limit.