HaMoked in a petition to the HCJ: allow travel through Ben Gurion International Airport to Palestinians undergoing family unification in Israel
Under Israeli policy, traveling from Israel and back through Ben Gurion International Airport is prohibited for Palestinians who live in Israel as part of an ongoing process of family unification with an Israeli citizen or resident – people who, due to the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, cannot receive permanent Israeli status, and mostly, not even temporary Israeli status. No matter how long they have been lawfully living with their families in Israel, these people cannot travel directly via Ben Gurion Airport as the rest of the family – their Israeli spouses, children or siblings – but must reach their destination by a circuitous route. For this, they must set out well in advance, reach Jericho in the West Bank, cross via Allenby Bridge to Jordan, and from there reach the international airport in Amman to catch their flight. Thus, foreign travel becomes complicated, burdensome and distressing not only for them, but for their families. Moreover, those undergoing family unification in Israel who are originally from the Gaza Strip – or are listed as such – cannot travel freely even through the Allenby Bridge crossing; they must obtain a special permit from the military and coordinate their passage in advance.
In correspondence conducted for several years with various officials at the Ministry of Interior and the military, HaMoked was told that the policy of preventing Palestinians undergoing family unification in Israel from traveling via Ben Gurion Airport was based on orders of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), whereby “as a rule, the exit of Palestinian residents abroad through Israel’s international departure terminals (such as Ben Gurion Airport, Ashdod Port, Haifa Port and other ports), will be made only in humanitarian and exceptional cases”; and that this policy was in line with the Interim Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which stipulated that Allenby Bridge Border Crossing was the designated departure crossing point for residents of the OPT. It was also claimed that security considerations made it impossible to alter this policy. HaMoked received no answer to its repeated inquires as to the legal basis for the COGAT’s imposition of the sweeping ban on travel via Ben Gurion of residents of the OPT, and the inclusion of those who were legally living in Israel under this ban.
Therefore, on June 2, 2016, HaMoked petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to pronounce that Palestinians who live in Israel pursuant to family unification may exit the country and return to it via the Ben Gurion Airport, without any restriction or any additional permit or procedure.
In the petition, HaMoked asserted that the COGAT was not authorized to set a general sweeping policy regarding travel via the Ben Gurion Airport, as the issue of border crossings was under the jurisdiction and control of the Minister of Interior. Furthermore, that the interim agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority did not address the issue of which border crossings may the residents of the OPT use; it established only a regulatory mechanism for operating the border crossings at Allenby Bridge and Rafah.
Moreover, Palestinians who live in Israel in the framework of a family unification procedure, must pass thorough security checks annually, as a condition for their being allowed to continue their life in the country. Therefore, HaMoked argued, it was unclear what security threat was entailed in their travel through Ben Gurion Airport, which has some of the most advanced security checking devices in the world.
Finally, HaMoked maintained that the exclusion from the Ben Gurion Airport was a needless infringement on an array of basic rights, including the rights to equality, dignity, family life and freedom of movement; the damage caused thereby was added to the severe harm brought on these people as a result of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law. In this context, HaMoked noted that in recent years, there had been significant progress in correcting the various ills arising from the continuation of the Law. Thus, inter alia, an alternative to the national health insurance was established for those who receive only stay permits as part of the family unification process; the limitation on employing them in Israel was removed; and they may now open Israel bank accounts. HaMoked asserted that similar progress should now be made also in the issue of travel via Israel’s main gateway.