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9.6.2011

HaMoked and ACRI in an urgent petition to the HCJ: prevent escalation of harm to Palestinians seeking to travel abroad

Israel prevents many Palestinians of the occupied territories from travel abroad. Despite its obligation to notify a person in advance of the intention to infringe on his basic right, for years, Palestinian residents did not know the military had banned their exit until their departure date, at the Allenby Bridge border crossing itself – the only route from which Israel allows Palestinians to travel from the West Bank abroad. Only once they arrived there, with full luggage, about to catch their pre-booked flights, on their way to a scheduled surgery, to begin new studies, visit a sick relative or attend wedding festivities – only then did they discover they were barred from leaving their country. Thus, many who sought to go abroad could not make plans for the future with any certainty, or know how to prepare themselves for their trip, if at all.

In the framework of the HCJ petition filed by HaMoked and others in 2006, the military refused to change its method and give notice to the people it banned from travel abroad, but instead, formulated  a procedure for handling advance inquiries about such travel bans. The procedure was purported to allow the Palestinians, who travel in the hundreds of thousands each year, to ascertain in advance whether the military bans their exit at the District Coordination Office (DCO).  

In 2008, the military formulated the first, two-phase procedure, which required that the Palestinians initiate their inquiry at least 14 weeks in advance, and also necessitated their appearance at the DCO several more times in the interim. In 2009, following condemnation by High Court of Justice, finding the procedure to be protracted, cumbersome and unjustifiable, the military publicized a revised procedure.  
This one-phase procedure, stipulated that upon applying to the DCO, the Palestinian resident would be answered on the spot whether security preclusion stood against him. If necessary, the applicant could file an appeal against the travel ban, to be answered within 8 weeks from that date.  

From the start, severe flaws were revealed in the actual implementation –schedules were not met, applicants were denied service, and the worst flaw of all, incorrect answers were provided at the DCO. In March 2011, following HaMoked's persistent appeals and the court's disapproval, the military revised the procedure once more.  

The new procedure requires the applicant to arrive at the DCO to file a request to ascertain whether a travel ban stands against him. A person who is not under a travel ban, will not be given an answer on the spot, but will need to appear at the DCO again four days later to learn whether it has been decided to ban his exit. If this turns out to be the case, it would be the start of the administrative appeal process, an extra period of 8 weeks.   

The new procedure constitutes a regression and contradicts the state's declarations before the HCJ as well as previous court decisions. Furthermore, it has no substantive justification. The military itself raises no claim that the revision stems from security or any other requirement.

Thus, rather than correcting the flaws in its system, the military chose the path that is easier albeit more harmful to human rights – to harass the applicants yet again and extend their waiting period. 

On June 9, 2011, HaMoked and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed an urgent petition to the HCJ, to instruct the military to revoke the revised procedure and act to correct the flaws resulting in its defective implementation, and to ensure that that applicants who use the procedure would receive correct replies on the spot. The organizations assert the revision exacerbates the situation of the Palestinian residents; that rather than improve the situation, Israel increases the obstacles, transforming the course of advance inquiry into an intolerable, excruciating bureaucratic maze, which serves no real purpose. This is an unjustifiable harm, in breach of commitments given in a previous HCJ petition and the Supreme Court decisions.  

The organizations stress that this only further exacerbates the already severe harm to the basic rights of the protected Palestinian population – the rights to freedom of movement and due process, part of the norms of international customary law, and firmly established in Israeli law.
mail@hamoked.org.il (02) 627 1698   (02) 627 6317

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