On 8 November 2005, HaMoked - Center for the Defence of the Individual petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) in the matter of the wife and mother of a resident of the Territories who is imprisoned in Israel. The military refused to allow the women to visit the prisoner and did not respond to their requests for over a year. The two have seen their loved one for some five years.
The Petitioners appealed to the army to lift the ban in the context of an arrangement it designed for family members who are barred entry to Israel but have security clearance to participate in prison visits in Israel and in the Territories. The Respondent designed this arrangement following previous petitions filed by HaMoked on the matter.
Under this new arrangement, applications to visit prisons by residents of the Territories who are barred entry into Israel are to be submitted to the Civil Administration through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and from there to the Israel Security Agency (ISA) for individual examination. If the ISA finds no impediment to issue the applicant a permit to visit his relative in prison using the ICRC shuttles, the applicant is given a single permit to enter Israel for the purpose of visiting the prison. The permit is valid for 45 days. This permit allows a single visit to the prison and can be used when an ICRC shuttle leaves from the visitor's town to the prison where his loved one is held. Once the person visits, the permit expires and the visitor must then submit a new application through the ICRC, which is then transferred to the ISA for re-evaluation. If the security evaluation yields the same result, another permit is issued etc. (The visits are arranged by the ICRC since the military does not allow residents of the Territories to visit prisons individually and does not provide any alternative).
This arrangement is problematic. For instance, the involvement of so many agencies results in a complicated and lengthy processing of the applications. Additionally, processing of applications to renew permits is lengthy and therefore results in extremely infrequent visits. The arrangement also provides no solution for people wishing to visit more than one relative. When the arrangement was presented, HaMoked notified the authorities of these concerns, but chose to reserve judgment until full implementation. Unfortunately, the concerns materialized. It was not before the end of April 2005, some six months after the military announced the implementation of the arrangement, that families began receiving 45-day single-use permits to visit prisons. More permits were issued in September 2005, but many applications, including those submitted by the Petitioners remained unanswered.
In the petition, HaMoked stressed that in refraining from responding to the Petitioners' applications and many other similar applications, the military is breaching its duty as an administrative authority. One of the foundations of administrative justice is an administrative authority's duty to respond to applications submitted to it within a reasonable timeframe. Speedy and efficient processing of applications is one of the foundations of good governance. Additionally, in conducting itself in this manner, the military is violating the fundamental rights of the prisoners and their relatives. The right to visit relatives in prisons is a basic right which follows from the perception of humans as social creatures who live as part of a family and a community. It also follows from the concept that a person's incarceration does not mean the denial of his basic rights. It must be noted that the military's refusal to respond to applications submitted to it regarding prison visits is doubly severe considering the fact that it is the military's duty to arrange for such visit, as part of its duty to guarantee the constitutional rights of the residents of the occupied territory.
Considering the fact that the distress suffered by the Petitioners in this petition is shared by many residents of the Territories, HaMoked intends to file further petitions on this matter in the near future.