In recent weeks, Gisha filed seven petitions against Israel’s Ministry of Defense and military authorities on behalf of Palestinian Christians living in Gaza whose applications for permits to visit the holy sites and family outside of the Strip had been denied by Israel. In all seven cases, the grounds cited by Israeli authorities for denying our petitioners permits was “overstay” – a term the authorities use to refer to cases where the permit applicant has a relative or relatives who have, at some point, “overstayed” the terms of a permit and were considered to be residing outside of Gaza “illegally” from Israel’s perspective. Refusing permit applications on these grounds amounts to prohibited, arbitrary punishment, yet it is routinely used by Israel to deny Palestinians’ travel between Gaza, Israel and the West Bank.

In addition to the petitions, Gisha notified the Southern District Attorney of its intent to take legal action on behalf of dozens more residents denied permits by Israel: The first notification listed 21 additional Gaza residents whose applications had been denied due to a relative’s alleged “overstay.” The second notification referred to 18 more residents whose applications had either received no answer whatsoever or had been not been processed because the Israeli authorities claimed that they had been filed with a “wrong telephone number,” another perplexing excuse used all too often.

Thanks to Gisha’s legal advocacy, by January 11, Israeli authorities had granted permits to 46 Palestinian Christians in Gaza, including children, allowing them to exit the Strip to visit family and the holy sites in the few days remaining until January 19, when the permits expired. On January 19, Israeli authorities still hadn’t responded to applications by three residents represented by Gisha, and were dragging their feet issuing permits for five more though they had already been granted a permit in theory.

According to information obtained by Gisha, and in part thanks to our legal work against permit refusals, Israel granted about 574 “holiday permits” to Palestinian Christians in Gaza, out of some 830 applications filed in total. As of January 23, more than 100 applications remain unanswered. The rest were denied under a variety of pretexts.

This reality, where some members of a family receive permits, while others are left waiting for a response, or are denied outright, forces families to decide whether to forego the opportunity to visit relatives and holy sites outside of the Strip or take advantage of the permit but leave some members of the family behind in Gaza. This year, the first since the COVID outbreak when Israel allocated holiday permits for Gaza Christians, the bureaucratic violence of its permit regime prevented many families from reuniting, violating the fundamental rights to freedom of movement, freedom of religion, and family life.

For more information about “holiday permits” for Palestinian Christians and the violation of Gaza residents’ right to religious freedom and worship, see here.