This is the third petition Gisha has filed against a refusal to let women whose registered address is in the West Bank return there permanently with their children on the grounds that they voluntarily relocated to the Gaza Strip. For more information about previous petitions, see here and here.

October 2, 2019. S. was born in 1986 in Saudi Arabia. Her parents are originally from the West Bank, and the family returned to live there in 1992. In 2005, she married a resident of Gaza and was compelled to move to the Strip, as Israel does not allow Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to live in the West Bank, including in the framework of family unification. The couple had three children, who, like their mother, were registered with a West Bank address. After a long period of unemployment, S.’s husband emigrated to Turkey in search of work. She decided to return to the West Bank with her children, where she could live with her mother and rely on her family’s support.

She submitted an application to return to the West Bank with her children, in keeping with their registered address. This type of application meets the narrow criteria put in place by Israel for transit between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but S’s application was refused on unclear security grounds. Gisha petitioned the court against the refusal, which resulted in the petitioner being summoned for a “security interview.” It was then that the respondents said (Hebrew) the security preclusion had been lifted, but the refusal remained as the petitioner had “permanently relocated” to Gaza in 2009. During a hearing on the petition held on December 16, 2019, it was agreed an amended petition would be filed against the new refusal. The amended petition was filed on January 30, 2019.

In the amended petition (Hebrew), Gisha stressed that the respondents did not explain the basis for their claim that the petitioner had permanently relocated to Gaza, adding that if they were referring to the fact that she was required to sign a document to this effect upon returning to Gaza from a visit to the West Bank in 2009, it had no bearing. Gisha noted that the signed document was never produced by the respondents and that the petitioner never waived her right to return to live in the West Bank.

It was further argued that the decision of the Israeli military to deny her return home was a violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits forcible transfer of populations in an occupied territory. Gisha demonstrated that the accepted interpretation of the terms ‘forcible transfer’ and ‘expulsion’ is broad, including a ban on relocating a person against her will, whether by using direct or indirect pressure, or by exploiting governmental powers. We emphasized that any alleged “consent” on the part of the individual to her 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.” We also noted that according to Article 8 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a person may not renounce rights secured to them in the convention. For all these reasons, even if the petitioner did, in fact, sign a document to that effect, her signature has no validity whatsoever. Gisha added that blocking the petitioner from returning home with her children is a severe violation of her fundamental rights and that the military’s decision was unreasonable and disproportionate on these grounds as well.

In their response (Hebrew) dated February 6, 2020, the respondents persisted in their refusal, arguing that the petitioner was, factually, a resident of the Gaza Strip, that she had signed a declaration and relocated to Gaza voluntarily. They noted that they were not in possession of the signed document and that evidence of the petitioner’s signature was entered into their digital database. The respondents also argued that allowing the petitioner to return to the West Bank would fundamentally undermine the policy of separation and minimal movement between the two areas. They also argued that having left the occupied territory, the petitioner ceased to be a “protected person.”

The petition was heard on March 3, 2020. The court focused on the fact that the respondents failed to produce the document signed by the petitioner and suggested, given the absence of sufficient evidence that the petitioner had permanently relocated to the Gaza Strip, that the respondents withdraw the refusal. The respondents consequently stated that the petitioner and her children would be permitted to return to the West Bank, and their statement was validated as a judgment. She and her children returned to the West Bank shortly thereafter.