November 20, 2017

On September 11, 2017, A.M., a resident of Gaza, submitted a permit application to travel to Saudi Arabia (via Israel and Jordan) with her four children for the purpose of visiting her ailing husband, who has been blind since childhood. A.M.’s husband works abroad and was awaiting surgery for the removal of his gallbladder. The family was last reunited more than four years ago.

Despite the urgency of the application, the Gaza Civil Liaison Administration (CLA) did not respond to it for two months. In light of the delay, Gisha filed a High Court petition (Hebrew) on November 8, 2017 on behalf of A.M. (and others whose applications had not been answered). Justice Noam Sohlberg ordered (Hebrew) the state to respond to A.M.’s application by November 14, 2017.

It was only at that point that the state notified (Hebrew) the court that it had not processed A.M.’s application as an application to visit a sick relative, but rather as a request to travel abroad for the purpose of “extended stay,” meaning that A.M. and her children would only be permitted to travel abroad if they signed a commitment not to request to return to their home in Gaza for one year.

Gisha argued (Hebrew) that the state’s response indicated an overly formalistic and insincere handling of A.M.’s application. Given the medical documents and Gisha’s letter, which were submitted as part of A.M.’s application, the CLA knew that it was an application to visit an ailing relative, and could have processed it as such. Justice Sohlberg subsequently ordered that the case be heard before a panel of three justices.

At the hearing, held on November 20, 2017, the state insisted that A.M. and her four children must sign the commitment if they wish to travel to Saudi Arabia the next day. Counsel for the state, Adv. Avnon, argued that the Gaza CLA had not processed A.M.’s application as an application to visit an ailing relative and was not able, at that point in time, to process it as such. Adv. Avnon presented the justices with A.M.’s application form, supposedly received by the CLA from the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in Gaza, but refused to provide Gisha with a copy, claiming it was an internal document between two state entities.

The justices suggested that the state consider whether A.M.’s application could, nevertheless, be approved as an application to visit an ailing relative, which would relieve her from the requirement to sign the year-long commitment not to return to Gaza. Adv. Avnon and the legal advisor to the Gaza CLA, Adv. Glass, left the courtroom to confer, but upon their return, repeated their assertion that changing the type of exit permit on such short notice was impossible. Despite objections voiced by Gisha on behalf of the petitioners, the justices decided (Hebrew) they could not intervene in the state’s decision and that if A.M. wished to travel to Saudi Arabia the next day, she would have to sign the commitment.

On November 21, 2017, A.M. arrived at Erez Crossing and was forced to sign the commitment form on behalf of her and her four children, stating that they would not request to return to Gaza for one year. They exited the Strip to Saudi Arabia (via Israel and Jordan) not knowing if, how, or when they would be allowed to return to their home and family in Gaza.