In March 2020, amid the COVID outbreak, Israel tightened further the restrictions on travel at Erez Crossing. For one year (from March 2020 to March 2021), Israel denied exit from Gaza via Erez other than in a small number of medical emergencies, for Palestinians returning to the West Bank or other countries where they reside, and for attending In March 2021, Israel stopped enabling exit from Gaza for participating in mourning rituals.
During the hostilities in May 2021, which Israel refers to as “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” it closed Erez Crossing for travel. On May 25, several days after a ceasefire was reached, the crossing opened for limited movement of people under the following criteria: Patients in need of life-saving treatment that is unavailable in Gaza, Gaza residents returning to the Strip from Israel and the West Bank, and entry by Palestinian citizens of Israel into Gaza (either members of “divided families” or to attend a funeral).
On June 3, 2021, Gisha filed an urgent petition (Hebrew) against the state’s refusal to allow three Gaza residents, the parents and son of a man who had passed away in Israel, to enter Israel and participate in mourning rituals. The state denied their application, saying it did not meet the criteria put in place for the entry of Palestinians into Israel after the May 2021 hostilities. was imposed at Erez Crossing, participation in the funeral of a first-degree relative was one of the only criteria under which Israel permitted Palestinians’ travel between Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank.
In the petition, Gisha argued that the policy instituted after the escalation was arbitrary, unreasonable, and disproportionate, and that the respondents were obligated to consider each and every application submitted to them, to use discretion, and to provide a detailed decision. In its response (Hebrew), dated June 8, the state argued that given the travel policy put in place after the escalation, the administrative discretion used to make the decision was not flawed, and that the policy itself was proper and warranted no intervention.
The petition was heard on June 10. The court reviewed the order that reflected, according to the respondents, the government’s decision (the decision itself and the rationales for it were not presented to the court). The hearing concluded with a judgment (Hebrew) dismissing the petition. The court believed that the state benefited from a presumption of propriety with respect to the policy instituted following the hostilities, that the fact that no grounds were cited for the refusal did not mean that the petitioners’ particular circumstances had not been considered, and that given the policy by which the respondents were bound, their decision was reasonable.
Four days after the judgment was rendered, on June 14, Israel changed its policy and began allowing entry into Israel for mourning rituals (for Palestinians without Israeli citizenship). On June 17, Gisha received an official response regarding this matter. Thereafter, the parents (petitioners 1 and 2) received permission to enter Israel. The son’s entry was denied on security grounds, and the decision was reversed only after another petition (Hebrew) was filed.
On June 23, once travel for mourning had been reintroduced to the few criteria permitting exit from Gaza, Gisha filed an urgent petition (Hebrew) in the matter of a Gaza resident whose sister had passed away in Israel. His permit application was filed after the sister died, before entry for mourning was exempted from the travel restrictions, and immediately dismissed for failing to meet the criteria. It was denied again about a week later, again for not meeting the criteria. Gisha filed a petition against the unreasonable refusal, explaining the petitioner’s application did in fact meet the criteria, that the refusal cited no grounds, and that it was arbitrary and disproportionate.
To the petitioner’s surprise, the state’s response dated June 28 stated that the application did not meet the criteria, since the burial had taken place two weeks prior, and the criterion permits entry for a funeral only, not a bereavement visit. The state also claimed that even in ordinary times, entry is permitted as soon as possible after the death occurs and no later than the three days of mourning. As the petitioner had failed to point to any exigent circumstances, there was no reason to depart from the time limitations, and acceptance of the petition would be tantamount to adding a criterion to the current policy.
During the hearing, held on June 29, Gisha argued that in their current response, the respondents were giving the mourning criteria in the Status of Authorizations document a new, narrow interpretation. The process by which applications from Gaza residents are submitted and considered precludes speedy responses, meaning that this new interpretation effectively makes it impossible to receive a permit under the criterion. Gisha also presented the court with many examples of entry permits for bereavement given a week, two weeks, and even longer after the date of passing. Gisha further argued that the rationale and the humanitarian need on which this criterion is predicated are still in effect after the funeral and the first three days of mourning.
On June 30, the court delivered a judgment (Hebrew) accepting the petition and allowing the petitioner’s entry into Israel. The court ruled that the circumstances of the matter called for flexibility in the application of the criterion, as in other cases, and that even a week or two later, the humanitarian consideration is still materially compelling, and the petitioner’s need to mourn his sister among his family remains strong. The court also noted that the time that had elapsed since the application’s submission should not be used to the detriment of the petitioner.