Who can travel between Gaza and the West Bank? Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

The northern Gaza Strip is only about 50 kilometers away from the city of Hebron in the West Bank. But few people are allowed to travel this short distance. Contrary to popular opinion, Israel did not begin restricting movement between Gaza and the West Bank when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, but rather many years earlier. Today, out of millions of Palestinians, only a few thousand people are able to travel between Gaza and the West Bank each month. What does this mean? That families cannot meet, that students cannot pursue their studies, and that many, many people miss out on job opportunities and other options for professional development. The bigger picture? An economy in decline, rising unemployment and a great deal of frustration.

The film was inspired by "Darfur", by Yossi Atia and Itamar Rose, 2008.

Very few people. Officially, Israel grants permits only to people who fall within the following categories: medical and humanitarian cases; students with scholarships to study abroad (who, in order to pass through Israel on their way to a third country need the consulate of the country to which they are traveling to request their exit and in some cases, escort them); individuals with Israeli citizenship; staff of international organizations, and; diplomats and members of the foreign press. That’s it. In practice, most of those who receive permits to travel via Erez are medical patients and their companions and an elite group of merchants who have obtained special permits.

Suppose you live in the Gaza Strip and want to visit a relative in the West Bank. In order to do this, first take into account that you would be limited to visiting a first-degree relative only. In other words, under certain conditions, you might be able to visit your parents, children or siblings. As for aunts and uncles? Grandparents? Other relatives? The criteria don’t allow for it.

Even you do have a first-degree relative in the West Bank, criteria determining when you can visit are still very narrow. If your relative is sick, for example, you may only visit when he or she has been admitted to the hospital for a lengthy period of time, or has a life-threatening condition. In these cases, you must apply to exit Gaza, supplying your relative’s medical documentation, and hope that the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories agrees that your relative’s condition is sufficiently critical to warrant approving a permit for your visit.

You can also travel from Gaza to attend a first-degree relative’s wedding or funeral. However, if your sister loses a child, heaven forbid, you would not be eligible for a permit in order to go to the funeral. If you do get a travel permit for a wedding or a funeral, your children may accompany you, provided they are six years old or younger.

Finally, it is also possible to visit a (first-degree) relative who is imprisoned inside Israel, again under certain conditions.

Medical patients applying for a permit in order to receive medical treatment outside Gaza must include in their application a medical referral from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, a financial commitment from the Palestinian Authority or an international organization to cover their medical costs, a medical report from their doctor, and the dates of treatment. Usually, patients who travel via Erez Crossing are seeking treatment in a hospital in Israel, in east Jerusalem or the West Bank, and some cases also in Jordan.

Israel allows up to 120 "senior" merchants from Gaza to travel for business to Israel and the West Bank on the days that Erez Crossing operates. To qualify for a permit, merchants must be 35 or older and married with children (barring some exceptions). Since the majority of those who qualify as "senior merchants" are men, only eight women currently receive permits to travel on business. 

There are other individuals eligible to request permits who fall into the “others” category. Christians are eligible to request permits to travel to the West Bank and east Jerusalem on certain holidays, subject to criteria that change from year to year. Muslims, on the other hand, are not permitted to travel from Gaza on their holidays.

Some individuals are granted permits to travel to Jerusalem to obtain visas to foreign countries. People who are invited to official Palestinian Authority events can request permits and a select group of VIPs are also permitted to enter Israel via the Erez crossing.

Israel allows soccer players to travel from Gaza for training and for matches provided they are members of the Palestinian national soccer team. Other athletes are not entitled to travel.

Like many young people, students from Gaza often seek to study abroad in part also because Gaza's academic institutions do not offer the full range of academic programs. Since 2000, Israel has also prohibited students from the Gaza Strip from studying in the West Bank. The only students who can travel from the Gaza Strip through Israel are those who have received foreign scholarships to study abroad, and even then only under certain conditions.