Following petition, four Palestinians with Israeli citizenship returned to their homes in the Gaza Strip

Erez Crossing. Photo by Gisha

April 23, 2020. Four Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, two women and two men, who live in the Gaza Strip, obtained permission to return to Gaza this week following a petition filed by Gisha. The four individuals fall into a category that Israel refers to as “split families” meaning families whose lives are split between Gaza and Israel because some family members have Israeli citizenship and others do not. In this case, the four people live in Gaza with their spouses and children, and they also have first-degree relatives living in Israel. As Israeli citizens, they have a vested right to enter the country, but the Israeli authority governing the movement of Palestinians, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), makes every effort to limit their movement between Gaza and Israel as much as possible.

The two men, who are brothers, entered Israel last December to visit family members residing in Israel. The women entered in February this year. The permits applications submitted by the four to return to Gaza were not answered by COGAT. While they awaited responses to their applications, the closure on the Gaza Strip became even tighter due to measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19. In late March, COGAT announced (Hebrew) that no permit applications by Israeli citizens to enter Gaza would be processed “until further notice.”

Following a High Court petition (Hebrew) filed by Gisha on April 7, 2020, Israel agreed to allow the four to return to Gaza on condition they would not seek to reenter Israel for at least one month. Gisha rejected this proposal on the grounds that their vested right to enter the country must not be subjected to conditions. The state then withdrew the condition but insisted that should any of them reenter Israel, they must not expect nor seek to return to the Strip during the coronavirus crisis. The four individuals accepted these terms and returned to Gaza on April 20. Like everyone else entering Gaza since the outbreak of COVID-19, they were immediately sent to government-mandated and -run isolation facilities where they will remain quarantined for three weeks before reuniting with their families in the Strip.

In its response to the petition (Hebrew), the state asked the court to delete the petition given that the remedy it sought in the cases of the four individuals had been granted. This response ignored Gisha’s principled demand to revoke what is effectively a new ban on entry of Gaza residents with Israeli citizenship into Gaza. COGAT’s blanket refusal to process permit applications by Gaza residents with Israeli citizenship could harm other “split families” with members currently in Israel. For this reason, Gisha chose to pursue the general remedy to ensure Israel meets its obligation to process requests for travel by Gaza residents. In his decision, the judge determined that the state is required to examine each case according to its individual merits, and decided to delete the petition.

In ordinary and extraordinary times, the state has an obligation to protect fundamental human rights, including the right to family life.