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(photo credit: AP [file])
High Court Justices Asher Grunis, Esther Hayut and Uzi Fogelman were so sure of their reply to a petition filed by Ragda Abu Laben and the human rights group Moked for the Defense of the Individual that they did not bother to hold a hearing on the matter. One day after reading the state's response to the petition, the court unanimously rejected it.
Abu Laben is a doctor at a hospital in the Gaza Strip who is taking a two-year master's course in obstetrics and gynecology at Al-Shams University in Cairo. Her MA studies resumed in June, but she could not cross over into Egypt because the Rafiah border crossing was closed following the Hamas takeover of Gaza.
On August 3, Abu Laben had to take a qualifying exam at Al-Shams in order to become a member of the London-based Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Because the exam was crucial and because she feared she would lose out on the entire year's MA studies at Al-Shams, Abu Laben and Moked requested permission from the army's Coordinator of Activities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and the officer in charge of humanitarian affairs at the Israeli coordination and liaison administration for a permit to leave Gaza via the Erez crossing, through Israel to the Allenby Bridge, from there to Jordan and then on to Egypt.
The petitioners wrote that the Erez checkpoint remained open throughout the crisis caused by the Hamas takeover in Gaza.
After failing to receive a response for a week, Abu Laben and Moked petitioned the High Court.
"The Erez crossing continues to function and currently serves as the entry and exit point for Israelis, foreign citizens and Palestinians carrying transit permits," wrote Moked attorney Abeer Jubran. "In a few cases similar to the current one, the state has allowed Palestinians to enter Israel through Erez and cross over the Allenby Bridge into Jordan."
The state urged the High Court to reject the petition. The state's representative, attorney Daniele Marks, wrote that it was too dangerous to open the Erez crossing.
"Since each opening gravely endangers the safety of soldiers and civilians who are at the crossing, there is security justification to severely restrict the traffic there," she wrote.
According to Marks, the only circumstances in which entry permits to Israel are granted to Palestinians are matters of urgent, life-saving medical aid. Permits are also granted to members of international organizations, Israeli couples when one member of the couple lives in the Gaza Strip, a handful of foreign journalists and key Palestinian merchants on whom the economy of Gaza depends.
"There is no reason to endanger the lives and safety of [Israeli] civilians and soldiers for the sake of the petitioner who is a foreign citizen toward whom Israel has no responsibility," she wrote.
Marks also wrote that granting Abu Laben a permit would violate the principle of equality, since the state would not grant it to others.
In the petitioners' written response to Marks's statement, they cited alleged contradictions, including that "the situation at the Erez crossing has changed dramatically since the first days of the fighting between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip. The crossing is now possible in both directions and is sometimes made without prior coordination."
However, the court did not see the petitioners' reply. By the time it was officially admitted, the court had already issued its ruling rejecting the petition. According to the decision, the court accepted the state's argument that Erez was only opened in special humanitarian cases and the case of Abu Laben was not one of them.
"Let us hope that when times change, the security situation will also change so that the petitioner will be able to fulfill her wish to go to Egypt," the justices wrote.
Without knowing about the court's ruling, the Coordination and Liaison Administration at Erez granted Abu Laben's request two days later.
"Abu Laben's departure from Israel via the Allenby Bridge to stay abroad for the time requested is permitted," the army wrote, not mentioning the security situation at Erez. The following day, Abu Laben left for Egypt.