Israel severely restricts freedom of movement in and out of the Gaza Strip, causing immense hardship. The closure policy has uniquely harsh implications for families where one spouse is a resident of Gaza and the other an Israeli citizen or resident. On a sweeping security pretext, Israel almost completely denies its citizens and residents who are over age 18 from fulfilling the right to family life with the Gaza parent (usually the father). Israeli minors are allowed regular visits to the parent in Gaza, accompanying the Israeli parent (usually the mother) or to live there with both parents, subject to the military procedure known as the “divided families” procedure. But once they turn 18, Israel prevents the children of these “divided families” from living with their family in Gaza or even visiting their Gaza parent. They can only get a permit in special humanitarian circumstances, which often means the father’s severe illness or death. In the case of children who were living in Gaza, the procedure spells their effective expulsion from their home and familiar surroundings once they come of age, unless they choose to remain in Gaza contrary to Israeli law (which prohibits the stay of Israelis in Gaza without a special permit from the military). The fathers themselves cannot live in Israel with their Israeli spouses and children due to the restrictions of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which is still being implemented by the Ministry of Interior, despite having expired in July 2021. Thus, as a matter of routine, Israel severely infringes the basic right to family life of many young Israelis, who must separate from their father just as they reach adulthood. Recently in some cases the military even prevented Israelis from having a final farewell meeting with their Gazan parent.
Therefore, on November 22, 2021, HaMoked and Gisha filed a principled petition to the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to demand the “divided families” procedure be amended to protect the basic right of Israeli residents and citizens to regular family life with their Gaza parents also after they become adults, except where it is precluded for individual security reasons. The petition was filed after the military dismissed out of hand HaMoked’s request to amend the procedure on June 17, 2021. The petitioners argued that Israel must allow regular contact between children over age 18 and their Gaza parents, as this relationship lies at the heart of the constitutional right to family life, intended to safeguard the nuclear family unit, the foundation of human society. The petitioners clarified that due to the age cap set in the procedure, there are currently many children of “divided families” who have not seen their parents who live in Gaza for many years, unless they received a permit for a brief visit due to one of the established “exceptional circumstances”. In the current situation, once a parent from Gaza and their Israeli child separate at around the time the child turns 18, there is a very real and tragic possibility that they might never meet again.
The petitioners asserted that the sweeping age cap set in the procedure constitutes a disproportionate violation of the rights to family life and freedom of movement, and also prevents children from fulfilling the basic human value of honoring and supporting their parents. Additionally, argued the petitioners, the age cap undermines the principle of the child’s best interests as awareness of the looming separation darkens their lives from an early age and impacts their emotional development. Moreover, this also causes severe and disproportionate harm to children who, after turning 18, choose to continue living with their parent in Gaza without permission from Israel; they are effectively forced to relinquish their constitutional right to return to Israel (especially in the case of young single women). Therefore, the petitioners demanded that the procedure be revised such that adult children are eligible for six-month renewable permits, as their Israeli parents receive, to allow them to visit Gaza or live there, as they choose.