Center for the Defence of the Individual - Arbitrarily and without supervision, Israel prevents OPT residents from travel abroad on security pretexts: only following HaMoked’s petition was a Palestinian allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia
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Arbitrarily and without supervision, Israel prevents OPT residents from travel abroad on security pretexts: only following HaMoked’s petition was a Palestinian allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia

On March 22, 2011, a West Bank resident of the village of Yatta arrived at the Allenby Bridge border crossing, seeking to travel via Jordan to Saudi Arabia for his work and in order to validate his temporary Saudi residency.

A West Bank resident can travel abroad only via the Allenby Bridge crossing into Jordan. The man traveled abroad several times a year, for many years. However, on that day, he was surprised to discover the Israeli soldiers were barring his exit, without cause or explanation. Note, the man has never been interrogated or detained.

The following day, he arrived at the Hebron District Coordination Office (DCO), to appeal against the military's refusal to allow his travel abroad. Under military procedure, an objection should be answered within 8 weeks. However, his case was urgent, given that any delay in his arrival to Saudi Arabia, could have lost him his Saudi status and rights, and cause him heavy financial loss. The military procedure does not provide for urgent departures. Therefore, on March 30, 2011, HaMoked appealed to the Hebron DCO, requesting that the man's objection be processed urgently. Over a month after his objection, with no reply from the military despite the urgency involved, HaMoked filed an urgent petition to the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to instruct the military to let the man travel abroad.

In the petition, HaMoked asserted that Israel was preventing the petitioner from travel abroad, without prior notice and without granting him the right to plead his cause; that a sweeping travel ban of unlimited duration is an excessive and disproportionate violation, such that infringed on his basic rights to dignity, personal autonomy, freedom of movement and freedom of occupation, all part of the norms of international customary law, and firmly established in Israeli law.

Thereupon, the state began raising successive accounts. On May 3, 2011, the state unequivocally reaffirmed its refusal, on the basis of "current information in the possession of the security officials the departure abroad of the petitioner, known to be involved in bringing Hamas funds to the Area, would risk public safety and the security of the Area."

On May 12, 2011, during the hearing, the state presented classified material to the Justices ex parte. The court, apparently unimpressed by the "secret" evidence presented, advised the State's Attorney's Office to establish conditions allowing the petitioner to travel abroad. After conferring with "security officials", the state offered that the petitioner would travel abroad, but would not be allowed to return to his West Bank home for a period of four years. Needless to say, HaMoked objected to the offer, which sought to separate the petitioner from his family for such an extended period. The court accepted HaMoked's position and issued an order nisi instructing the state to justify its refusal to allow the petitioner to travel abroad.

On May 19, 2011, the state presented yet another, third, version, announcing "the petitioner will be allowed to travel abroad, on a one time basis, for a limited period of only four days…after his return from abroad he will not be allowed to travel abroad for a period of two years at least".

The offer made it impossible for the man to realize the purposes of his trip, and in a conversation between HaMoked's representative and a representative of the State Attorney's Office, the state announced its decision to extend his travel period to five days; on May 29, 2011, the state offered a whole week. After two more weeks, the truth came out – the state announced to the court that "following additional information which reached the security officials, they lifted their objection to approving the petitioner's departure abroad", this came after its persistent claim that the man was risking public safety.

HaMoked requested the court to delete the petition, and it was agreed that the state would pay the petitioner trial costs in the sum of NIS 5,000.

Israel prevents tens of thousands of OPT residents from traveling abroad on so called security grounds. Faced with the might of the occupation, most of those banned from travel cannot muster the strength to assert their rights. Thus, arbitrarily, without supervision or censure, scores of people are confined to their country, in violation of their basic rights.

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