How does two women’s simple wish to see each other threaten Israel’s “separation policy?” To mark International Women’s Day 2023, we bring you the story of two Palestinian sisters, a broken leg, and a routine response from Israeli authorities encapsulating the bureaucratic violence of the closure on Gaza.
Samira and Amira (pseudonyms) are two sisters in their mid-40s, born in the Gaza Strip. Samira has had temporary residency status in Israel since 2000 and lives there with her husband and children. Amira, also married with children, lives in the Strip but is registered as a West Bank resident. Despite living only a short distance from one another, the sisters have seldom been able to meet over the years given Israel’s stringent permit regime. The last time they saw each other was a year and a half ago, following their mother’s death. The time before that was in 2018.
A few months ago, Amira had a bad fall, which resulted in a complex fracture in her leg. As Amira awaited her surgery in the Strip, Samira filed a request to the Israeli authorities in the hopes of finally getting to see her sister and help while she recuperates, as well as a rare chance to hug her nieces and nephews.
If only it were so simple. Samira was denied a permit by Israeli authorities. Why, you ask? They claimed that Amira never signed Israel’s ‘declaration of settlement in Gaza,’ that is, a form whereby Palestinians registered as West Bank residents must “waive” their right to return to the West Bank in the future. As demonstrated in Gisha’s report One-way Ticket, the main victims of this practice, which amounts to the war crime of forcible transfer, are Palestinian women.
Amira, stated Israeli authorities in their response to Samira’s permit application, “cannot have her cake and eat it too.” She needs to decide: Either continue living in Gaza, sign away her inalienable right to move to the West Bank in the future – or submit a request to move to the West Bank permanently. Amira’s desire to continue living in Gaza without forgoing the possibility of moving to live in the West Bank in the future was not only presented by Israeli authorities as an unrealistic ambition, they also went so far as to claim that accepting Samira’s permit application to visit her sister would mean a total cancellation of Israel’s “separation policy.”
Given that Amira had no interest whatsoever in either waiving her West Bank residency nor uprooting her life and moving there now, the sisters had to accept that they would have to wait, perhaps indefinitely, for a chance to see each other again.
Amira and Samira are not the first Palestinian women whose basic need to meet with family members is exploited by Israeli authorities in order to pressure them to sign away their rights. They are also unlikely to be the last. On this Women’s Day, we are again reminded that in the fight for gender equality, we must confront the systems of oppression that Palestinian women continue to suffer from disproportionately, including the closure on Gaza.
To read more about the ‘declaration of settlement’ form and the stories of women whose lives have been impacted by it: https://gisha.org/en/one-way-ticket/