COGAT publishes its quotas of “holiday permits” for Palestinian Christians: This Christmas, travel between Gaza and the West Bank is barred entirely

Church of the Nativity. Photo by Chris Yunker

December 12, 2019. With less than two weeks until Christmas, the Israeli military unit of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) has published (Hebrew, page 23) its permit quotas – what it calls “holiday gestures” – for Palestinian Christians in Gaza and the West Bank. This year, the quotas for travel to and from Gaza include 100 permits for Christian residents of Gaza over the age of 45, but only for travel abroad, and 200 permits for Christians living abroad who are originally from Gaza to visit the Strip. This means that this Christmas, Gaza Christians will be denied access to the holy sites and their families in the West Bank and Jerusalem. In addition, only Christians over the age of 45 are eligible for a permit for travel abroad, so even families from Gaza who wish to travel abroad for the holiday will not be able to do so together.

At Easter this year, COGAT initially announced that only 200 Gaza Christians above the age of 55 would be given permits, and only for travel abroad. That was the first time that Gisha knows of that Israel denied outright all access for Gaza Christians to the West Bank and Jerusalem (at Christmas or Easter). Following public pressure and local and international media coverage of Israel’s decision, Israel added a 300-permit quota for travel to the West Bank and Jerusalem for Christians from Gaza. The quota was added after the holiday had begun, and was also much smaller than in previous years, when COGAT set quotas of at least 500 permits, or more.

The decrease in the number of holiday permits issued to Christians in Gaza over the years, and the fact that this Christmas Israel has not allocated any permits for Christians to travel between Gaza and the West Bank, point to the intensifying of access restrictions between the two parts of the Palestinian territory, a deepening of Israel’s “separation policy“.

Twice a year, at Christmas and Easter, COGAT publishes arbitrary quotas of permits, ostensibly intended to allow Gaza residents to reunite with family in the West Bank and Israel for the holidays, and to visit the holy sites in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem, and other places. Though COGAT regularly demonstrates pride in these measures, touting them as proof of Israel’s respect for religious freedom, its conduct surrounding the publication of these quotas, and the unnecessary limitations it imposes on who can obtain a permit in practice, fall far short of Israel’s obligations towards the Strip’s civilian population.