For years, M. has lived in the West Bank and worked in Israel for years. M. was born in Gaza but in 2015 he decided to move to the West Bank in order to work and provide for his spouse and children who live in Gaza. Unlike M., whose registered address in the Palestinian population registry is in the West Bank, the rest of his family are registered as Gaza residents, and are therefore barred by Israel from living with him in the West Bank.
In early November 2020, M.’s father passed away unexpectedly in the Strip. M. filed an application to enter Gaza to participate in the mourning rituals. Following intervention by Gisha, Israel accepted his application. The Israeli authorities demanded that M. remain in the Strip for at least two weeks and file another permit application to return home about a week ahead of time.
The petitioner entered Gaza in mid-November 2020. In early January 2021, he decided to return to the West Bank and he filed his application about a week before he wished to exit via Erez Crossing, as he was asked to. The Israeli authorities took three weeks to respond, and when they did, M. was told to file another permit application through the West Bank District Coordination and Liaison office (DCL). It took ten more days until M. received a response, which stated that “if the request is for Gaza, then unfortunately, it is not yet possible to approve… due to the coronavirus.”
Gisha filed a petition (Hebrew) demanding M. be allowed to return home to the West Bank. In its preliminary response (Hebrew), the state insisted on its refusal, claiming for the first time that the petitioner was not entitled to return to the West Bank as he had “settled in Gaza.”
This claim was based on a document M. had been made to sign in 2017, which stated that he intended to move from the West Bank to Gaza permanently. According to the respondents, in signing the document M. had voided his right to return to the West Bank, and his presence there was unlawful. This perplexing response had never before been brought up in similar proceedings, and it ignored the fact that for years, Israel had issued M. permits as a West Bank resident, including in the recent humanitarian permit he had been granted to enter Gaza.
The response (Hebrew) filed by Gisha highlighted the respondents’ wrongful conduct. While the petitioner had signed a document on a date he could not recall, its meaning was never explained to him. M. was entirely unaware that his signing the document would be construed as a waiver of his right to live in the West Bank and did not consent to doing so.
Gisha stressed that the Israeli authorities had misled the petitioner, who was mourning his father, and exploited his distress in order to trick him. Gisha further argued that M. lives in the West Bank lawfully, that he had received Israeli permits as a West Bank resident after 2017, including work permits, and was working in Israel when he entered Gaza in November 2020.
Gisha further argued that Israel’s decision to deny M.’s return home was a violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the forcible transfer of populations in an occupied territory. Gisha demonstrated that the accepted interpretation of the terms ‘forcible transfer’ and ‘expulsion’ is broad and includes relocating a person against their will, whether by using direct or indirect pressure or by exploiting governmental powers. Gisha also stated that any alleged “consent” should be examined in the full context in which it was purportedly given, with consideration of the person’s degree of vulnerability. We also noted that according to Article 8 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a person may not renounce rights secured to him or her in the convention. For all these reasons, we argued that the petitioner’s signing of the document had no validity.
After the first hearing in the petition, the respondents insisted on filing a response brief (Hebrew), in which they repeated their key arguments from the preliminary response. The second hearing took place on April 4, and focused on the dispute between the parties regarding the legal status of the petitioner’s 2017 permit application and of him being made to sign the document, which the respondents believe voids his right to return to the West Bank. At the end of the hearing, prior to rendering judgment, the court allowed the respondents to file a supplementary affidavit that would list all dates relevant to the petitioner’s 2017 application and its substance, and to submit parts of this application in a sealed envelope to the court only.