Tomorrow (Thursday, October 14), Israel’s High Court will discuss a petition filed by Gisha on behalf of a 32-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel who lives in Gaza. Since June, the woman has been trying to return from Israel to her home and four children (aged 9-16) in the Strip. Israel is refusing to let her do so because her spouse, a Palestinian resident of Gaza, is, by Israel’s definition, staying in Israel “illegally.”

The petitioner is a Palestinian woman born in Gaza, the daughter of a Palestinian citizen of Israel. She married a Palestinian resident of Gaza and the couple have four children, all born in the Strip. About five years ago she was issued an Israeli passport, allowing her to visit family in Israel and later, to be recognized as a member of a “split family,” a term used by Israel to describe a couple where one spouse has Israeli citizenship and the other is a resident of Gaza.

Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who marry Gaza residents are denied family unification in Israel and therefore, can only realize their right to family life in the Strip. To enter the Strip, spouses with Israeli citizenship must receive permits from Israel, which they must renew every six months. Given Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinian children to travel with their Israeli mothers when they visit Israel, other than in extremely rare cases, the woman’s children remain in Gaza when she visits.

On June 15, after entering Israel for what she hoped would be a short visit, our petitioner filed an application to renew her permit so she could return to her children in Gaza. Despite repeated inquiries from Gisha, Israeli authorities did not answer her application for six weeks. On August 1, when they finally responded, her application was denied; Israeli authorities claimed that the woman’s husband was not in the Strip but rather staying “illegally” in Israel, and therefore that she “did not meet the criteria” for travel into Gaza. In other words, Israel has separated between a mother and her children for months as a wrongful punitive measure, leveraging her desire and right to be with her children as a means of demanding that her husband return to Gaza.

Throughout this time, the woman’s eldest daughter, just 16 years old, has had to take care of her younger siblings on her own.

In the petition filed by Gisha, we emphasize that what little is left of the woman’s constitutional right to family life must not, under any circumstance, be made conditional on the whereabouts of her husband, and that Israel must not exploit the mother’s distress to advance its own irrelevant interests. Israel’s refusal to allow the woman to enter the Strip is extremely unreasonable and disproportionate, a severe violation of her and her children’s rights to normal family, to dignity, and to freedom of movement. We also note that Israel is, in effect, ignoring the principle of the child’s best interest, which must be a primary consideration in any governmental decision.

The discussion on this case will take place tomorrow, October 14, before High Court Justices Anat Baron, George Karra, and Yosef Elron, at 9:00 A.M.