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21.2.2021

Following HaMoked’s intervention: Israel lifted a “travel ban” to allow a Palestinian man to leave the West Bank to be with his terminally-ill brother hospitalized in Egypt

Every year, the Israeli security forces ban hundreds of Palestinians from the oPt from going abroad, without a hearing, or even notifying them of the travel ban and for how long it will be in force. These bans are often imposed arbitrarily and are frequently lifted following HaMoked’s submission of an objection to the military or a petition to the court. Often, the military lifts the ban on condition that the person sign a general pledge not to engage in terrorism, even if the person has never been arrested by either the Israeli or Palestinian security forces. The standard pledge effectively stipulates that if the security forces conclude that the person violated it in some undisclosed manner, this would count against them in considering any future request to lift a travel ban. Israel thus harms the right of many Palestinians to freedom of movement, allegedly based on secret information.

On November 26, 2020, HaMoked petitioned the Jerusalem District Court to compel the military to immediately lift a security ban imposed on a Palestinian man from Ramallah, to allow him to travel to Egypt to assist his brother, a cancer patient in terminal condition who was hospitalized there. The petitioners clarified that the brother, from Gaza, had spent the past two months in hospital largely on his own, far from his family, and had no other relatives who could be at his side.

Only after the petition was filed did the military bother to respond to the urgent request to lift the ban, submitted over two weeks earlier, and announced it would be lifted “provided [the man] signs a form of refraining from terrorism and deposits a form of undertaking not to engage in terrorism including terror funds and the imposition of a monetary fine in the sum of 10,000 ILS”. Following HaMoked’s enquiries, the District Attorney’s Office said the man only needed to sign the undertaking. He did so, and after the District Attorney’s Office confirmed the ban had been lifted, he made preparations for his trip.

However, at the last moment, when the man reached Allenby Bridge border crossing on December, 10, 2020, an Israel Security Agency (ISA) official demanded that he sign another, more threatening, undertaking, whereby, if security officials determine – under their complete and undisclosed discretion – that he breached the undertaking, he would no longer be allowed to leave the West Bank in future. This, while circumventing his legal counsel and in disregard of the previous undertaking, given in the framework of a legal proceeding. The man, anxious to finally leave, had no choice but to sign the undertaking, and was then allowed to continue on his way.

Given the authorities’ unexplained and problematic conduct in this case, HaMoked insisted the legal proceedings must continue, even though the man had already left the oPt. Following the hearing of December 13, 2020, the state clarified that the first undertaking the petitioner had signed “is the binding undertaking” (emphasis is the original), and that the second was invalid and the result of a technical error. In its judgment of February 18, 2021, Judge Moshe Sobel deleted the petition, stressing that “the petitioners’ demand to hold a hearing in the petition, despite [the] petitioner’s departure… was justified”, due to the second undertaking required of him and its different wording as regards future travel abroad. The Judge Sobel also noted that after the petition had been filed, the petitioners had to continue their efforts “in order to bring about the implementation of the decision to lift the security ban…”.

This is not the first time HaMoked had to deal with one-sided last-minute measures that contradict agreements reached in the framework of legal proceedings relating to the right of freedom of movement. On December 27, 2020, HaMoked wrote to the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office to complain about this recurring phenomenon which entails an infringement of the right to access justice, and compels petitioners and their legal counsel to maintain dealings with two authorities simultaneously, without knowing which one is giving accurate information. In its response of February 4, 2021, the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office stated that having examined the facts of the cases cited by HaMoked, they had reached the conclusion that rather than a recurring phenomenon, at issue were several isolated incidents, in which it had turned out that a gap existed between the position given to the court and the implementation on the ground. It was further stated that “we have clarified to the relevant entities the importance of the information provided and the provision of the most accurate [official] positions possible”.
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