April 22, 2021. This morning, following a legal battle by Gisha, S.T., a Palestinian woman from Gaza in her sixties was able to exit the Strip and attend an interview at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
The woman has been trying to obtain an emigration visa to the U.S., where her only daughter, an American citizen, lives with her two young children. The daughter suffers from severe health problems. About six months ago, the daughter discovered she had to undergo surgery to remove a tumor from her head. She needs the care and comfort that only her mother can provide.
Gisha has been providing S.T. with assistance since December. She repeatedly filed requests for a permit from the Israeli authorities to exit Gaza for a few hours and attend her visa interview. Twice her applications were denied, first on the grounds that the request had not been forwarded by the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in Gaza, and then on the grounds that her application “did not meet the criteria” for travel via Erez Crossing under the “coronavirus closure” being enforced by Israel. The increased restrictions on travel to and from Gaza, in effect since March 2020, block travel even in dire humanitarian circumstances. Even those who do meet Israel’s narrow criteria face the bureaucratic violence inherent in the Israeli permit regime.
In February, the U.S. embassy postponed the date of S.T.’s interview to April 22, and she filed another application for an exit permit. The Israeli authorities never responded, nor did they respond to an additional request filed by Gisha in March. Non-response to permit applications by Gaza residents – a practice all too familiar to Gisha – causes great discomfort and uncertainty for permit applicants. In S.S.’s case, Israel’s failure to respond and grant her request is a violation of her rights to freedom of movement, family life, and autonomy.
On April 11, Gisha petitioned the Beersheba District Court on S.T.’s behalf, emphasizing that the Israeli authorities had recently added foreign embassy interviews to the list of exceptions to the travel ban at Erez. As often happens, the filing of the petition expedited the process and at long last, prompted a response from the state. This week, Israel notified the court it would allow S.T. to travel to the embassy.