As part of its strategy to isolate the Gaza Strip, Israel has long been pursuing a policy aimed at cutting off the links between Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and Israel, and their relatives who live in Gaza. Israel will only consider requests of Israelis to enter Gaza for what it defines as an “exceptional humanitarian need”. This is limited to participation in a wedding or funeral of an immediate relative, or a visit to a severely-ill immediate relative – when the patient’s life is in danger or when prolonged hospitalization is necessary. Even in exceptional humanitarian cases of this type, often HaMoked has to petition the court to compel the military to approve the necessary visit.
On August 12, 2021, HaMoked petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to compel the military to approve the exceptional humanitarian request of a Palestinian from Jerusalem to enter Gaza just once in order to visit the grave of his wife. The couple, both born October 1990, were married shortly after their chance acquaintance in September 2018, when the woman arrived from Gaza to Jerusalem to receive essential medical treatment in Hadassah hospital. The brief marriage of the couple – both suffering from severe chronic illnesses – ended in January 2021, when the woman passed away in a Ramallah hospital of Covid-19. The man arranged to have his wife’s body transferred to Gaza, but he himself was denied entry to Gaza at the Erez Crossing; at that time, due to the pandemic, the military had suspended the criterion that would have enabled him to participate in his wife’s funeral and the mourning period with her parents and siblings who live in Gaza.
The military rejected HaMoked’s request of June 26, 2021, to allow the man a single trip to Gaza in order to visit his wife’s grave. In its hardhearted response of June 28, 2021, the military said that the man’s request “does not meet any of the established criteria” for the entry of Israelis to Gaza, and added that “no reason has been found to deviate from them” (emphasis added). In its petition, HaMoked argued that the request had been dismissed out of hand without any consideration of its particular and exceptional humanitarian circumstances. This, said HaMoked, constituted a severe violation of the man’s right to family life, which includes his right to a visit his deceased wife’s grave.
The state did not alter its position and in its response to the petition, filed August 30, 2021, asserted that the decision to deny the request “is a reasonable decision in the circumstances of the case, which gives no rise to intervention by the court…”. The state justified its stance, among other things, by claiming the petitioner had “delayed” in filing the request to visit Gaza – in complete disregard of the man’s predicament and the unique situation existing since the wife’s death – a continued pandemic and the May hostilities in Gaza.
At the October 18, 2021 hearing, the judges asked repeatedly why an exception should not be made in this case, noting that the criteria to enter Gaza were not a matter of law, but of regulations set by the military itself. Some cases warranted deviation from these regulations, the Court commented, and advised the state to avoid issuance of an order nisi in this case. The state, therefore, reversed its decision and issued the man a two-day permit to visit Gaza.