Israeli members of Knesset Aida Touma-Sliman and Ofer Cassif from Hadash and Heba Yazbak from Balad sent letters to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), urging Israel to allow a five-year-old born in the Gaza Strip to move to the West Bank along with his mother and four siblings.

Kawthar Hemo, a mother of five, moved from the West Bank to Gaza in 2000 following her marriage to a resident of the Strip. Since February 2017, Hemo has been trying to obtain a permit from Israel that would allow her to move back to the West Bank with her children.

Hemo’s registered address, as recognized by Israel, is in the West Bank. In 2012, she updated the addresses of her four older children in the population registry to West Bank addresses, in keeping with her own. When she tried to do the same for her youngest son, now five years old, Israel wouldn’t allow her to. For this reason, Israel is refusing to let him travel to the West Bank with his mother and siblings.

If Hemo were to exercise her right to return to the West Bank and leave her son behind in Gaza, which she has no intention of doing, she would only be allowed to visit him in extremely rare circumstances that Israel defines as “humanitarian exceptions“: A life-threatening illness, funeral, or wedding. Thus, for over two years, the family has been forced to continue living in Gaza, hoping to be allowed to return to the West Bank in search of a better future.

In May 2017, Gisha filed a High Court petition on behalf of Hemo and the youngest of her children, who was three years old at the time, demanding that Israel allow him to travel with his family to the West Bank. In response, Israel argued that the preschooler must file an application for “settlement” in the West Bank. Hemo filed the application through the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Civilian Affairs, as she had been instructed, but Israel claims it was never forwarded to Israeli authorities.

In January 2019, Gisha filed another petition with the Jerusalem District Court. A hearing on the petition is slated to take place in late June.

In her letter, MK Yazbak writes that, “Israel is forcing the mother to choose between two unbearable options. She could either give up her right to return to her home and continue raising her son in the Strip, with all this entails, or exercise her right without her youngest child. Israel’s refusal to allow the child to change his address or grant his request for settlement in the West Bank means separating the family members.”

The MKs requested that COGAT intervene immediately and approve the entire family’s travel back to the West Bank.