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HaMoked and Gisha to COGAT: cancel the new procedure requiring Palestinians living in Gaza to forfeit their right to relocate back to the West Bank if they wish to visit there in humanitarian circumstances

Despite the geographic divide, the West Bank and Gaza Strip constitute a single integral unit, sharing numerous family ties, among other things. But for some 20 years now, Israel has been implementing a policy aimed at isolating the Gaza Strip and cutting it off completely from the West Bank. Palestinian travel between the two parts of the OPT has been drastically reduced and permits for visits are given only in “exceptional humanitarian” cases according to narrow, stringent criteria. The Israeli military considers address registration in either the West Bank or Gaza as a type of nationality, and relocating from one part of the OPT to another is construed as immigration. This is a one-way policy: the military allows Palestinians to relocate only from the West Bank to Gaza, and this only after receiving their pledge to permanently “settle” in Gaza without any intention of returning to the West Bank. Applications for relocation from Gaza to the West Bank, on the other hand, are automatically rejected.

On December 1, 2020, Gisha and HaMoked contacted Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) to demand cancelation of a new policy which effectively means that Palestinians living in Gaza with an address registered in the West Bank can no longer receive permits to visit the West Bank. The demand followed the November 2020 publication of a new version of the “Procedure on Issuance of Permits to residents of the Judea and Samaria Area [i.e., the West Bank] who are present in the Gaza Strip”, which introduced substantive provisions that are harsher than ever before.

According to Sections 1b and 1c of the new procedure, Palestinians with a West Bank address who live in Gaza may receive permits to visit the West Bank only if they agree to “settle” in Gaza and waiver their right to ever relocate back to the West Bank. This condition relates particularly to the issuance of permits on humanitarian grounds, such as medical treatment, accompanying a sick relative, visiting a sick parent or sibling, or participation in a family wedding or funeral. Previously, people listed as residents of the West Bank who lived in Gaza could receive these permits unconditionally, provided their case met one of the humanitarian criteria. But now people are forced to choose whether to abandon their plan to visit the West Bank or relinquish their right to ever move back to live there. This condition is unacceptable, as it compels applicants to choose between two unreasonable and unacceptable alternatives, both of which gravely violate their basic rights.

The organizations noted that this policy change mainly harms women originally from the West Bank who were forced to move to Gaza following their marriage to Gaza residents. This due to Israel’s policy preventing them from raising their family with a Gaza spouse near their biological families, where they were born and raised, and forces them to move away to Gaza.

The organizations stressed that under international law, a Palestinian listed with a West Bank address may freely return to live there and that it is expressly forbidden to coerce a person to relinquish this right – pursuant to Art. 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibiting forcible transfers and deportations of protected persons. Furthermore, this right is unconditional and a person’s agreement to forfeit this right is invalid. (02) 627 1698   (02) 627 6317

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