November 5, 2020. Palestinians with registered addresses in the West Bank have a right to move there under international law. This right is also recognized in the narrow criteria defined by Israel for Palestinians’ travel from Gaza to the West Bank. Between February and July 2020, Gisha filed four petitions on behalf of Palestinians living in Gaza, whose registered addresses are in the West Bank. All four petitioners seek to move back to the West Bank and live there permanently.

The petitioners in the first two cases had filed several travel applications via the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee (PCAC) but received no response from the Israeli authorities. Their previous applications had been denied for unspecified “security reasons.” Gisha filed petitions on their behalf, challenging these denials.

The petition (Hebrew) on behalf of A.M. was filed on June 2, 2020. In the response (Hebrew) filled on June 24, the respondents claimed the “security block” against A.M. had since been lifted, but that he would not be able to cross to the West Bank due to coronavirus restrictions Israel was imposing at the crossings. Gisha objected to the respondents’ request to have the petition deleted, and filed a request to submit an amended petition to respond to the state’s change of reasoning, which was accepted by the court.

In the amended petition (Hebrew), filed by Gisha on June 30, we challenged the restrictions the respondents imposed on the crossings during the coronavirus pandemic, arguing they were disproportionate. In addition, we argued that in contrast to the West Bank, where the status of the outbreak is periodically reviewed and restrictions are accordingly lifted in an effort to return to normal, no change to the closure at Erez Crossing had occurred since it was first imposed in early March. Gisha further argued that the decision to deny the petitioner’s travel to the West Bank was unreasonable, as he was planning to take a one-way trip lasting just a few hours within Israel, in a closed vehicle, which would not in any way compromise the efforts to curb the spread of the virus. In their response (Hebrew), dated July 20, the respondents argued that at present, travel from Gaza to the West Bank is allowed only in the most urgent medical cases, and no reason was found to make an exception to the policy in the petitioner’s case.

At the hearing  (Hebrew) held on July 26, it first came to light that the respondents’ “coronavirus closure” at Erez Crossing (laid out in a document considered classified at the time) did make an exception for urgent medical cases, and also for individual consideration of applications by West Bank residents located in Gaza to return to the West Bank. In light of this discovery, the court held that the petitioner would file a detailed application to be considered by Israeli authorities under this exception, and the respondents would issue a detailed decision in his case.

It should be noted that Israeli policy with respect to the coronavirus closure, as it emerged for the first time during the hearing, was only published in writing in a document entitled Policy for entry of Gaza Strip residents into Israel and into the Judea and Samaria Area during lockdown on August 12, following a petition filed by Gisha. The policy contains two exclusions to the full closure imposed on the Strip in March 2020: Entry to Israel and the West Bank for medical patients facing life-threatening illness (and their companions), and individual consideration of applications made by West Bank residents and foreign nationals located in Gaza to return to the West Bank or their country of origin.

On July 30, Gisha filed a detailed application (Hebrew) on behalf of A.M. It was rejected on August 6, for the same reason cited in response to the amended petition: No grounds justifying an exception to the coronavirus closure. Given this response, we filed a motion (Hebrew) to proceed with a hearing on the petition. The court scheduled a hearing on November 1. Three days before it, on October 27, counsel for the respondents announced (Hebrew) that the petitioner would be permitted to travel to the West Bank. The update to the court also claimed that the policy on travel from Gaza to the West Bank was under review at the time, which was expected to impact the cases of West Bank residents located in the Gaza Strip. Given this notice, which permitted A.M. to move to the West Bank, we withdrew the petition.

The petition (Hebrew) against the security refusal in the matter of A.L., another Palestinian living in Gaza whose registered address is in the West Bank, was filed on March 1, 2020. In a response (Hebrew) dated March 24, 2020, the respondents announced that the petitioner would have to undergo a security interview, but also that such interviews were not being held at the time due to the coronavirus. The respondents asked to file an updating notice once the “state of emergency” ended.

On August 9, 2020, the respondents said a security interview had been scheduled for A.L. Gisha informed them that he would be unable to attend the interview in person due to restrictions imposed by Gaza authorities to curb the spread of the pandemic, and asked to have the interview conducted by other means such as video or telephone conferencing. The respondents refused. Therefore, on August 25, 2020, Gisha asked (Hebrew) the court to review the existing classified material presented by the respondents in regard to the petitioner and consider instructing the respondents to conduct an interview remotely if it found it was necessary. The court accepted this request and scheduled a hearing on the petition and review of the classified materials on October 18, 2020. In their response (Hebrew) of October 15, the respondents stated that the security ban against the petitioner had been removed, but that he would not be able to cross to the West Bank due to coronavirus restrictions at the crossings. The respondents added that they were considering easing restrictions on travel by West Bank residents located in Gaza.

During the hearing (Hebrew), the court decided that since the security ban had been lifted, the respondents must consider the petitioner’s permit application once they receive his arguments. The petitioner’s arguments (Hebrew) were provided to them a few days later, and on November 5, 2020, they decided to allow the petitioner to travel to the West Bank. The petition was withdrawn.

In two other, similar cases handled by Gisha, the petitioners each submitted multiple permit applications through the PCAC, but received no response from Israeli authorities. Gisha submitted petitions on their behalf to demand that the authorities respond to their applications.

On June 30, 2020, Gisha filed a petition (Hebrew) in the matter of M.M. On July 8, we filed a petition (Hebrew) in the matter of R.Z. et al., four young university graduates who sought to start a life in the West Bank. The responses filed by the state to both these petitions stated that the petitioners’ permit applications had been rejected on the grounds of the respondents’ coronavirus policy at Erez Crossing. No supporting documents were provided to support this argument, which also contradicts the respondents’ interim response of June 4, according to which the petitioners’ applications were being processed. Again, the state’s responses noted that the restrictive travel policy was “under review,” and that if it were to change, it might render the petition moot.

During the joint hearing (Hebrew) on the two petitions, held on November 1, the court ruled that the petitioners would resubmit individual applications for passage from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, and ordered the respondents to issue individual decisions within 20 days. On November 3, the petitioners submitted individual applications (Hebrew) to the respondents. All five petitioners were granted travel permits. Having reached this result, both petitions were withdrawn.