Supreme Court upholds refusal to allow gender studies students to travel from Gaza to the West Bank

Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 – Backing down from earlier hints at intervention, Israel's Supreme Court this week upheld Israel's refusal to allow five female students from Gaza to reach their studies in the West Bank.  In rejecting the petition submitted by the Israeli human rights group Gisha and the Palestinian human rights group Al Mezan, the judges accepted the state's position that Israel is not obligated to allow Palestinian residents of Gaza to study in the West Bank, and that it may treat them as "enemy citizens" for purposes of passage.

Israel controls all access routes to the West Bank, which is why Palestinian students from Gaza require Israel's approval in order to reach Palestinian universities in the West Bank.

This week's verdict comes despite the court's criticism of the blanket ban, in place since October 2000, on students from Gaza studying in the West Bank. A 2007 court ruling had recommended that the state consider exceptions to the ban. This May, in the current case, a three-judge panel ordered the state to reconsider its refusal to allow the students to reach their studies. When the state insisted, a second three-judge panel issued an interim order demanding formal explanations. However, in advance of the final hearing, the panel of judges was changed again, and the new panel ruled, in a 2-1 vote, that the state is not obligated to consider exceptions to the ban.

The majority decision accepted the state's position that allowing the students to reach their studies would "undermine the 'separation' policy which is based on both security and political considerations". In doing so, the court approved restrictions on civilian travel between Gaza and the West Bank, even where no individual security claims are raised.

According to Issam Younis, Director of Al Mezan: "Israel's insistence on not allowing the students to reach their studies violates their right to freedom of movement and to access higher education at the Palestinian institutions established for their benefit. The ruling also reflects Israel's insistence, as an occupying power, on continuing its policy of collective punishment against Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip, which contravenes with international law. These talented women, together with the human rights organizations representing them, will continue their struggle against Israeli human rights violations in the Palestinian territory”.

According to Nomi Heger, Director of Gisha's Legal Department, who wrote the petition: "The court's decision ignores the reality that Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip do not live in a foreign country but rather are subject to Israeli control over significant aspects of their lives – especially travel to the West Bank. Despite the split in the Palestinian government, Gaza and the West Bank still constitute a single territorial unit, where people maintain countless familial, economic and educational ties, and where Israel is obligated to allow travel, subject only to individual security checks".

Master's programs in gender studies and democracy are unavailable in the Gaza Strip, so studying in the West Bank is the only option for the four Master’s students, all veteran women’s rights activists in Gaza. The refusal of their request comes in spite of the recent relaxation of travel restrictions; each month, Israel permits more than 4,000 entries of Gaza residents into Israel and the West Bank.

Click here for an info sheet on restrictions on student travel between Gaza and the West Bank.

Click here to read the court petition (Hebrew) and here for the state’s response (English translation).

Click here for the Judgment

Click here for information about the five students.