The Procedure for Handling Applications by Gaza Strip Residents for Settlement in the Judea and Samaria Area (hereinafter: the settlement procedure) determines the circumstances according to which Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip may move to and settle in the West Bank. The procedure was introduced in the context of HCJ 3592/08 Hamidat v. Commander of the Army Forces in the West Bank, as a result of the need to find an appropriate humanitarian solution for those affected by the separation policy between Gaza Strip and West Bank residents.The procedure, which stipulates extremely restrictive conditions, allows relocation to the West Bank in only three clear cases (orphans, chronic medical patients and elderly individuals in need of nursing care, who have no other family members in the Gaza Strip). It was severely criticized by the Supreme Court for being excessively narrow. Therefore, recently in HCJ 2088/10 HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual v. Military Commander of the West Bank, the state undertook to expand the catch-all clause that determines the scope of discretion for approval of exceptional applications that do not meet any of the three criteria named above.
Recently, without any official notice, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) posted a new settlement procedure on its website. Although some changes have been made, the possibility of relocating between Gaza and the West Bank remains restricted to near impossible. Most of the amendments made to the procedure do not reflect a real change from the previous procedure and some are even more restrictive. The new procedure, like the old one, defines the same three clear criteria for filing applications to move from Gaza to the West Bank. Like the previous procedure, it too stipulates that family ties do not, in and of themselves, constitute “humanitarian criteria” that would lead to approval of an application.
In addition to the restrictive criteria, section 6 of the procedure stipulates that applications made under it are to be submitted through a single, specific individual, Director General of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Civilian Affairs, Mr. Hussein a-Sheikh. Mr. a-Sheikh lives in Ramallah. The procedure is meant to regulate relocation by individuals who are located in the Gaza Strip. The process of filing applications combined with the strict conditions listed in the procedure makes relocating from Gaza to the West Bank almost impossible. We note that Gisha is not aware of a single application that has been filed, let alone approved, under this procedure since its introduction in 2009. A Freedom of Information application sent by Gisha and HaMoked to COGAT asking to receive factual information and statistics regarding the implementation of the procedure encountered an impenetrable wall of evasion, foot-dragging and irrelevant responses. Consequently an administrative petition is currently pending before the Tel Aviv District Court, seeking to compel COGAT to supply information about the implementation of the procedure.
On August 6, 2008, the media reported (Hebrew) that an application for relocation to the West Bank filed by the Palestinian Authority on behalf of Mohammed Assaf, the recent winner of “Arab Idol”, was approved by COGAT, Major General Eitan Dangot. Following approval of the application, Assaf, his family and even his manager, left Gaza and moved to the West Bank.
Assaf and his family obviously do not meet the criteria stipulated in the settlement procedure, nor do they come under the terms of the catch-all clause that allows approval in exceptional circumstances (unless winning a televised singing contest is considered “exceptional humanitarian circumstances”). Despite this, in this case, the military had no trouble bending the rules in order to allow the star to relocate.
Gisha welcomes the approval of Assaf’s application and wishes him success in his career. However, it should be noted that many Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip whose circumstances call out for approval for relocation to the West Bank are not granted the same privilege. COGAT’s decision to approve Assaf’s exceptional application only a few days after it published the restrictive settlement procedure emphasizes all the more the need to expand the criteria (especially the catch-all clause) for relocation from Gaza to the West Bank.