Since the beginning of the current intifada, Israel has been acting, in various ways, to separate between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, split the Palestinian population into two separate populations and cut them off from each other. One of the tools Israel uses for this purpose is the control it has seized over the Palestinian population registry – in the interim agreement between Israel and the PLO (the “Oslo Accord”), powers to administer the population registry of residents of the Territories were transferred to the Palestinian Authority, including the power to update registered addresses. In order to ensure that Israel has an accurate copy of the Palestinian population registry, it was established that the Palestinian side must inform the Israeli side of every change it makes to the registry after the fact – the registry run by the Palestinian side remains the decisive registry. The Oslo Accord includes no special reference to changes of address between the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which is in keeping with the fundamental principle, entrenched in the accord, that the two parts form a single territorial unit. Despite this, in 2000, Israel decided to freeze the updating of addresses between the Gaza Strip and West Bank in its copy of the registry. The information on record at the time was frozen as it was with no possibility of changing, amending or challenging it. Following Israel’s freeze of the copy of the registry, Palestinians whose addresses had been updated only in the original Palestinian registry faced severe difficulties, so much so that the Palestinian side was compelled to cease updating the original registry.
Since 2000, HaMoked has assisted many Palestinians whose rights have been violated as a result of Israel’s policy regarding passage from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. As a result of the separation policy, and the freeze on address changes, many Palestinians have been living in the West Bank for years while their official address is in the Gaza Strip. At the end of 2007, Israel began issuing temporary permits to remain in the West Bank designed specifically for Palestinians whose registered address is in Gaza. The permits were given retroactively, according to vague criteria, and without any legislative amendments.
Over the course of 2008, HaMoked submitted several HCJ petitions regarding Palestinians whom the State refused passage from Gaza to the West Bank, despite the fact that there were no security preclusions against them. Proceedings in these petitions were combined and during a hearing, the Court instructed the State to formulate a procedure for handling Palestinians’ applications for passage from Gaza to the West Bank.
According to the procedure which has just been published, only “objectively humanitarian” applications forwarded to the Israelis by the Head of the Palestinian Office of Civilian Affairs, will be reviewed. These applications include three groups: chronic patients whose condition can be treated only in the West Bank; minors under 16 years of age who have lost a parent in the Gaza Strip and whose other parent is in the West Bank and it has been proven that there is no other person to care for them in Gaza; invalid seniors, over 65 years of age, whose condition requires care by a relative who lives in the West Bank for whom no substitute can be found in Gaza. This is a graduated procedure – initially, applicants are to receive a permit for six months, then two-year permits are to be issued and finally, after seven years, Israel will consider whether a change of address is possible. At every permit renewal point, the applicant will be required, once more, to prove his eligibility under the narrow criteria described above.
The procedure completely ignores Israel’s previous pledge to recognize the Palestinian people’s right to self determination and its fulfillment within the Gaza Strip and West Bank as one integral unit. It ignores the rights of Palestinians to choose their life partners, conduct a family life and choose where to live. It restricts Palestinians’ freedom of occupation and their right to medical treatment. The criteria suggested in the procedure are so narrow that they seem to be the fruit of the imagination of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. It must be noted that according to the suggested criteria, it would be easier for a Palestinian to receive a permit to enter and temporarily remain in Israel, or for a foreign national to receive status in the Territories than it would for a Palestinian from Gaza to take up residence in the West Bank. Moreover, the procedure notes that in future, the right of Palestinians to freely move between the two parts of the Occupied Territories might be subject to quotas determined by Israel.
The procedure naturally refers only to passage from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank and fails to include specifications regarding passage in the opposite direction, i.e. from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. HaMoked emphasizes that the procedure expresses a policy which is nothing short of a transfer: while the policy prevents Palestinians from Gaza to travel to the West Bank and take up residence there, it encourages Palestinians to move from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. Such a move is tantamount to permanent removal from the West Bank. Even during periods of conflict, people continue to marry, create families and have children. Israel cannot ignore it, but even more so, it is its duty to do everything in its power to allow the continuation of normal life in the Occupied Territories.