A palestinian woman sits on a suitcase at Israel’s Erez Crossing after leaving Gaza on Sunday..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories suspended late last week a major portion of a program which allows Gazans to worship at al-Aksa Mosque on Fridays.
“The Israeli side has frozen the Friday prayer permits for worshipers above the age of 60 until further notice,” Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Ministry spokesman Muhammad Maqadma told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Since the conclusion of the war in Gaza in October 2014, Israel has issued approximately 200 permits to Gazans over the age of 60 and 100 permits to Gazan UN Relief and Works Agency employees to pray at al-Aksa Mosque and visit Jerusalem on Fridays.
The UNRWA employees’ permits have not been suspended.
COGAT said that it suspended the permits because some Gazans have overstayed them.
“Each week, some of the [Gazan] residents have taken advantage of their permits and stayed illegally in Israel. Therefore, it was decided to decrease the number of permits for prayers. We will not allow for the civil steps promoted by Israel to be exploited,” a COGAT spokesman told the Post
Maqadma confirmed that some Gazans have overstayed their permits, but said the problem lies in the short duration of the permits.
“A small number of people have overstayed their permits by a couple of hours, and in some cases a day, but eight hours to go to Jerusalem and return to Gaza is very short and frankly, not enough,” Maqadama said. “We need to remember that we are talking about people above the age of 60 – they are not as agile as younger people.”
Neither the PA Civil Affairs Ministry or COGAT provided statistics for the number of Gazans who have overstayed their permits.
Maqadma added that the PA Civil Affairs Ministry is undertaking efforts to reinstate the permits.
“We have contacts with the Israeli side regarding this matter and we are asking them to restore the permits and extend their duration to 24 hours, to make sure this problem does not recur,” Maqadma said, adding, “Israel should realize that it is immoral to punish a group of 200 people because four or five people have made a mistake.”
Gisha, an Israeli NGO and legal action center dedicated to freedom of movement, criticized the suspension of the permits on Sunday.
“Other than the blatant violation of freedom of movement and religious freedom, which are limited to begin with, this sudden [suspension] illustrates the arbitrary conduct of the authorities regarding the issuing and [suspending] of Gaza exit permits,” a report on Gisha’s website stated.
Israel last suspended Friday prayer permits for Gazans above the age of 60 in March for four weeks, citing similar concerns.
A Palestinian professor in Gaza, who has previously received permits to pray at al-Aksa Mosque on Fridays, told the Post
on Monday, on the condition of anonymity, that the decision to suspend the permits is “unjust.”
“This decision amounts to collective punishment,” the professor said, adding that the reason some Gazans overstay their permits is because of “the harsh and unbearable living conditions in Gaza.”
The professor also said that the suspension of permits violates Palestinian rights. “The Oslo Accords related to freedom of movement for Gazans. So why are we still barred from freely moving to Jerusalem?” the professor asked. “[Israel] needs to reconsider and reverse this unacceptable decision.”