Court nixes greater freedom to travel for Gazans

NGOs have requested that the state shorten "unreasonable processing times of permit applications" for traveling.

January 31, 2019 21:56
2 minute read.
A Palestinian demonstrator uses a sling to hurl back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops

A Palestinian demonstrator uses a sling to hurl back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence. (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)


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The High Court of Justice has rejected three NGOs’ request to make it easier for Gazans to leave the Strip for humanitarian reasons by ordering the state to approve requests faster.

The NGOs, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, and HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual – announced on Thursday that the court rejected their petition to make the state shorten “unreasonable processing times of permit applications by Gaza residents” for traveling.

Israel is selective about permitting Gazans to travel due to the state of hostilities between it and Hamas, which runs Gaza.

According to the NGOs’ petition, the long approval periods by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) “severely and systematically infringe on their human rights and limit the possibility of fulfilling basic needs.”

They said that a 2017 COGAT directive set much longer waiting periods to get approval for travel than a policy set in 2005.
Gisha said COGAT’s newer directive set a 23-day deadline for processing applications made by medical patients, regardless of when the patient has scheduled their appointment.

There are emergency exceptions to the rule, but Gisha would say that exceptions are few and far between and that the broad slow-moving rule has led to delays even in cases of emergency.

An application to visit a relative who is severely ill, or to attend a first-degree relative’s wedding in the West Bank or Israel, must be processed within 50 business days, according to Gisha.

Finally, COGAT can take up to 70 business days to process a request to travel for study abroad.

Gisha said that even with these long processing times, COGAT often fails to answer permit applications on a timely basis and sometimes does not even respond.

In a Wednesday hearing before the High Court, Gisha said patients had to cancel doctor’s appointments and weddings had been canceled because of the absence of key family members.

Despite these arguments, the three justices on the case: Menachem Mazuz, Ofer Grosskopf and Alex Stein, said that the court was not equipped as an expert to determine what would be shorter and still realistic periods for approvals.

At first, Mazuz seemed open to the idea of Gisha amending its petition to the court to add more specific cases which might help the court focus on certain paradigms and timeframes.

However, when the state told the court that during 2019 it would voluntarily reexamine its approval procedures, the justices decided to dismiss the petition entirely.

A spokeswoman for Gisha said that since the state has made similar vague pledges in the past without following through, that “the court’s decision is to continue to allow Israel to evade its legal obligations” toward Gazans.

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