July 26, 2017
On July 12, 2017, Gisha filed a High Court petition (Hebrew) on behalf of T., a Gaza resident who was accepted for undergraduate studies at a university in Jordan, beginning in June 2017. The Gaza Civil Liaison Administration (CLA) had rejected T.’s application on the grounds that it failed to meet the criteria for travel abroad from Gaza. The criteria currently in place only allow graduate and post-graduate students to leave Gaza to study abroad, in a weekly quota of 100 which includes Gaza residents traveling abroad for other reasons as well. Despite the set criteria, the CLA has allowed undergraduate students to travel abroad in the past: in the spring and summer of 2015, hundreds of students were allowed to exit on several occasions, ahead of the 2015-2016 academic year. On several other instances, the CLA approved individual applications by undergraduate students to travel abroad for academic studies, including at least one resident who was permitted to travel to attend the same program at the university in Jordan in January 2017 to which T. was seeking to travel.
In the petition, Gisha argued that there is no justification for the distinction between undergraduate students and students enrolled in graduate and post-graduate programs in terms of their travel abroad via Israel. If advanced degree students are allowed to travel, subject to the limited quota of 100 people (which is currently not exhausted), there is no reason to prohibit travel of undergraduate students. The petition argues that the state failed to explain the reasons for the distinction between the student populations. The state had never presented security concerns or reason to believe that a system overload would be created should access to education be made available to undergraduate students from Gaza.
The petition notes that a new criterion was introduced in February 2016, whereby any Gaza resident is permitted to travel abroad for whatever purpose, so long as he or she signs a waiver agreeing not to return to the Strip for at least a year. As previously reported, Gisha objects to this criterion, which we consider illegal and immoral, and has urged the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories to rescind it. Gisha has argued that adding this criterion to the existing criteria for travel abroad from Gaza creates an absurd situation in which some people have to meet strict criteria while others, willing to waive their rights, can travel. Those requesting to travel to special conferences abroad, medical treatment, advanced degrees or for family visits can leave Gaza without signing the waiver are subject to a limited quota and required to provide supporting documents while anyone else from Gaza who asks to travel abroad, without any reason, will be allowed to do so once waiving their right to return to the Strip for a year.
Gisha also argued that if the purpose of the new criteria was to facilitate travel for Gaza residents and encourage them to fulfill their dreams and wishes, there is no justification for distinguishing between undergraduate and post-graduate students, or for conditioning any of their travel on signing a waiver.
Once the petition was filed, the judge ordered (Hebrew) the respondents to file their response within a week. In their response, filed on July 19, 2017, the respondents insisted in continuing to refuse to allow the petitioner to travel abroad for studies under the criterion for academic studies, arguing that they had no obligation to allow him to travel via Israel as he was a foreign national, devoid of rights. The respondents added that the petitioner could waive his right to ask to return to Gaza for an entire year and that if he did, his application would be favorably considered.
The judge ordered (Hebrew) Gisha to respond to this, and Gisha filed its response (Hebrew) on July 25, 2017, asking that in addition to resolving the particular matter of the petitioner, the court hold a discussion on the general issues at hand.