Center for the Defence of the Individual - How ill must you be for the military to allow you to meet with your sister? Following HaMoked's petition, the military will allow a woman from the West Bank to visit her cancer-stricken sister in the Gaza Strip
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How ill must you be for the military to allow you to meet with your sister? Following HaMoked's petition, the military will allow a woman from the West Bank to visit her cancer-stricken sister in the Gaza Strip

As part of the Israeli policy expressly intended to limit to the maximum the passage of Palestinians between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the military issues passage permits only in cases it defines as humanitarian. In May 2011, the "restrictive policy" brought to a new height the infringement of rights of residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, when Israel announced that travel from Gaza to the West Bank via Israel would be allowed only if its purpose meets one of the three criteria: passage for relocation, for attending a wedding or a funeral or for visiting a seriously ill relative. The latter is only possible if the sick relative is "an immediate relative who has a serious disease which is life-threatening or requires prolonged hospitalization."

In late 2011, a Palestinian woman from Nablus applied to the military for a permit to travel to Gaza– through Israel–to visit her sick sister, a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy. The woman – who suffers from leg problems and has difficulty walking –requested also that her son be allowed to accompany to help her cope with her disabilities, and assist her during the visit. A month later, as no response came forth, HaMoked reapplied to the military on her behalf, requesting it to authorize the visit. The military responded that the request to visit the cancer stricken sister was denied "because it was not deemed to be a humanitarian request".

In view of the rejection, HaMoked petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ), requesting the court to instruct the military to allow the mother and son to travel across to Gaza. HaMoked stressed that in refusing to allow the visit the military was preventing the woman from supporting her ailing sister and violating both sisters' right to maintain family ties. The resultant harm was all the more severe given the sisters' difficult humanitarian circumstances and health condition. HaMoked further argued that the military's refusal infringed on the right of freedom of movement, which constitutes a primary expression of a person's autonomy, freedom of choice and the fulfillment of abilities and rights.

While conceding that the approval of the visit was not precluded by any security ban, the military maintained its refusal, claiming that "in this regard [i.e. the medical grounds for request] it has been established that the petitioner's sister did in fact have a cancerous tumor removed from her breast, but she is neither in long-term hospitalization at a medical facility nor is she in a condition where there is an imminent threat to her life. Hence, the representative of the health coordinator has recommended against approving this request".

Only after HaMoked delivered to the State Attorney's Office medical documents showing that the sister's cancer was still spreading around the body, the state agreed to consider the visit as a "humanitarian need" and informed that the visit application of the West Bank woman would be approved "if submitted via the proper administrative channel". The State Attorney's Office added that the son's application would be considered separately.

That same day, the son filed new applications for passage permits for his mother and himself. A few days later, the military's response arrived: the mother was granted permission, the son was refused. What was the reason? The son "was not an immediate relative of his sick aunt" – his request was determined not to be "per criteria"; this, despite the fact that HaMoked repeatedly emphasized that the mother required her son's help in performing basic daily functions.

Given the refusal to allow the son to accompany his mother, a hearing on the petition was held on July 2012, in the course of which the justices dismissed the state's claims whereby the mother's entry to Gaza without her son was a balanced solution. The justices noted that the mother was unable to function without her son and that if the two ill sisters were to meet without someone to help them, they would probably be unable to help each other. In light of the justices' suggestions, the State Attorney's Office announced that if additional medical documents be submitted, showing that the mother required basic nursing care – the request to allow the son to accompany her would be examined "with an open heart and a willing spirit". HaMoked agreed to have the petition struck out.

On November 7, 2012, after HaMoked had again submitted medical documents as to the mother's health condition, the military informed that it would allow the son to accompany her to Gaza. Thus, after more than six months and following a petition to the HCJ, the military approved "on an ex gratia basis, and in light of the highly exceptional circumstances of the applicants", what it deems to be a "non-criteria" passage from the West Bank to Gaza.

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