Gaza women can't study in Ramallah

Easing of Gaza blockade doesn’t apply to people, High Court rules.

July 8, 2010 05:49
4 minute read.
erez crossing barrier 88

erez crossing barrier 88. (photo credit: )

The loosening of the land blockade of the Gaza Strip applies only to goods, not people, the state informed the High Court of Justice during a hearing on Wednesday on an appeal to allow a Palestinian woman from Gaza to study at Bir Zeit University north of Ramallah.

On June 20, the ministerial security committee decided upon “a series of moves to ease restrictions regarding the entry of various commodities and merchandise into the Gaza Strip,” the state informed the court.

“As far as the passage of people is concerned, the decision did not say anything about extending the current policy whereby the state permits entry [into Israel] of humanitarian cases, with the emphasis on urgent medical cases.”

The state also quoted the relevant paragraph in the security committee’s June 20 decision whereby the government decided to “streamline the policy of permitting the entry and exit of people for humanitarian and medical reasons and that of employees of international aid organizations that are recognized by the government of Israel.”

As conditions improve, Israel will consider additional ways to facilitate the movement of people to and from Gaza.

The case at hand involves a 29-year-old lawyer from the Gaza Strip, Fatma Sharif, who has been working in the area of human rights, and particularly women’s rights, since receiving her law diploma four years ago. Sharif was accepted to study for an master’s degree in human rights and democracy at Bir Zeit University. One of her attorneys, Nomi Heger, told the court it was the only Arabic-speaking university in the area which taught such a course.

Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, which petitioned the court along with Sharif, described the petition as an early test of Israel’s alleged easing of the Gaza closure policy.

In fact, however, the dispute between the petitioners and the state revolved around Israel’s current policy of dealing with requests of students from Gaza to enter Israel on their way to the West Bank or Jordan, which, as the state made clear, had not changed.

The state’s representative, attorney Ilil Amir, told the court that entry into Israel from Gaza was restricted to exceptional humanitarian cases, essentially medical ones. Applications to enter Israel in order to study at foreign universities were not considered humanitarian cases.

Amir added that the High Court had supported the state’s position in a number of petitions of this sort over the past few years.

Heger, however, maintained the court had departed from this policy in a decision regarding a group of students from Gaza who wanted to study physical therapy in the West Bank. While the court upheld the government’s sweeping refusal to allow them to pass through Israel, justice Elyakim Rubinstein wrote that “to the extent that is possible to find ways to examine applicants individually, this would be a worthy and helpful step... Is there no way... to establish a ‘committee to examine exceptional cases’ or something like that which would examine the requests of individuals in cases where allowing them to enter Israel would have positive, humane consequences?”

Who, asked Heger, fit this description better than Sharif?

“Preventing the petitioner from moving from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank blocks her way to help the development of Palestinian civil society,” wrote Heger. “It prevents her from acquiring the necessary tools to provide for the needs of the Gaza Strip in terms of human rights.”

The court did not seem impressed with Heger’s arguments.

“The state says there is nothing special about this request,” presiding Justice Miriam Naor told Heger. “What is so special about it?”

After hearing Heger’s plea, she added, “I am still having trouble seeing what is special.”

But the court was even more disturbed by the timetable of the petitioners’ request. To study this year, Sharif must show up at Bir Zeit University by July 15. Naor and Justice Hanan Meltzer said there was not enough time for the state to conduct the individual examination that the petitioners were asking for. They recommended that Sharif and Gisha withdraw the petition and wait for the next school year. If they petitioned earlier than they did this year, they would stand a better chance, he said.

Furthermore, as the security cabinet said, if political and security conditions improved, the government would consider “additional ways to facilitate the movement of people to and from Gaza.”

However, the petitioners rejected the advice and asked for a show-cause order, which would mean, if granted, that the court would continue to deliberate on the petition no matter how long it took for a decision to be made.

Later in the afternoon, the panel of justices – Miriam Naor, Hanan Melcer and Isaac Amit – rejected the petition on the grounds that given the current political and military situation, the personal circumstances of the petitioner did not warrant the court’s intervention.

In response to the ruling, Heger said, “It is not clear what Israel gains by preventing a talented young lawyer, against whom it makes no security claim, from deepening her understanding of human rights and therefore contributing to the development of a robust Palestinian civil society. I regret that the court declined to follow its own case law and evaluate Ms. Sharif’s request in the framework that the court itself established in 2007, namely the need to consider exceptions to the general ban.”

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