May 14, 2019. The petitioner is a woman born in 1984 in Tulkarem in the West Bank, who moved to the Strip in 2003 after marrying a Palestinian resident of Gaza. The petition was submitted by Gisha after the petitioner’s application to visit her sick, elderly mother in the West Bank was denied by Israel. In its response to her application, Israel stated that the petitioner would only be allowed to travel from Gaza to the West Bank if she applied for a one-way permit to the West Bank, or if she applied to settle permanently in Gaza, thereby waiving her rights as a West Bank resident. What may appear to some to be a meaningless bureaucratic demand is in fact a way of denying the petitioner the very possibility of someday returning to live in the West Bank, where she was born and where much of her family still lives. According to Israel, Palestinians who ask to “settle” in the Gaza Strip “of their own free will” forfeit their protected right to return to the West Bank, their registered home, whenever they wish (for another example of this argument presented by Israeli authorities, see here).
In the petition (Hebrew), Gisha demands that Israel allow the petitioner to travel to the West Bank to visit her mother, in keeping with Israel’s narrow criteria and under the same circumstances in which Palestinians whose registered address is in the Gaza Strip can apply to visit family members in the West Bank. The petition also demands that all other Palestinians living in Gaza whose registered address is in the West Bank be allowed to obtain permits to visit the West Bank.
We argue that Israel must not deny the petitioner’s travel to the West Bank due to extraneous considerations serving Israel’s demographic interests in the West Bank, namely, to limit the number of Palestinians living there. In other words, these interests cannot be used to justify denying a person’s right to freedom of movement, as well as other fundamental rights reliant on freedom of movement.
We further argue that Israel’s attempt to force the petitioner to waive her right to return to the West Bank is in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits forcible transfer of populations in an occupied territory. We demonstrate that the accepted interpretation of the terms ‘forcible transfer’ and ‘expulsion’ is broad, including a ban on relocating a person against their will, whether by using direct or indirect pressure, or by exploiting governmental powers. In this context, any alleged “consent” on the part of the individual to their relocation should be examined carefully, with special consideration for the circumstances in which it was given and attention to that person’s level of vulnerability in giving her so-called “consent.”
In the preliminary response (Hebrew), the respondents explained that the policy of separation between the two parts of the Palestinian territory and the overall policy on Gaza residents could not be securely implemented without individually regulating the permanent relocation of West Bank residents in Gaza; permanent settlement in the West Bank is permitted in extremely rare cases, whereas applications for permanent settlement in the Strip are usually granted. Thus, Israel effectively admits to being guided by the aforementioned extraneous consideration (as in, Israel’s demographic goals in the West Bank) in its decision to deny the petitioner a visit to her ailing mother.
At the hearing on May 14, 2019, the Jerusalem District Court (sitting as a Court of Administrative Affairs) noted that Israel was entitled to its interpretation whereby a lengthy stay in Gaza was grounds for limiting movement to the West Bank; but criticized the state for conditioning permits on the applicant’s agreement to sign a document where he or she is forced to adopt the state’s interpretation.
The court recommended that the state reexamine the petitioner’s permit application and see if it might be approved without forcing her to sign any additional documents. The state accepted the court’s recommendation and granted the petitioner and her daughter visitor permits to the West Bank. The court deleted the petition without issuing a costs order.