The High Court of Justice this week upheld the government's policy barring residents of the Gaza Strip from visiting relatives imprisoned in Israel. The government imposed the ban after Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007.
"It is true that the security prisoners are entitled to rights and these should not be withheld beyond what is necessary," said Justice Esther Hayut, who wrote the decision released on Monday. "[However,] we do not believe that the alleged harm to the prisoners justifies cancelling or changing the government's practice, given the fact that it is based on legitimate policy which, at this point in time, restricts entry from Gaza to Israel."
The petitions against the government ban were filed by HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, and Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights. In its petition, HaMoked argued against the sweeping ban against all family visits, claiming that by imposing it, Israel was violating the basic rights of Palestinian prisoners and their families.
HaMoked's attorney noted that there are currently some 930 Gazans imprisoned in Israel, including women and minors. Until June 6, 2007, Israel allowed spouses, parents, grandparents, sisters and daughters and brothers under the age of 16 or above the age of 45 to visit their imprisoned relatives. The visits were arranged through the auspices of the International Red Cross, and security forces examined each request individually. However, after the Hamas takeover, the security cabinet passed a resolution imposing sweeping restrictions barring all Gazans from entering Israel, except under special circumstances. The government said the decision was based on foreign policy and security considerations.
The court accepted this claim and said it rarely intervened in these matters. It also accepted the state's argument that it was a country's sovereign right to permit or prevent entry of foreigners into its territory.
Hayut wrote that the court had already determined that Israel no longer occupied the Gaza Strip and that it was only obliged to grant the most basic humanitarian needs of the population. Allowing relatives to visit prisoners inside Israel was not one of them, Hayut said.
Asked why HaMoked believed Israel should allow relatives to visit Palestinian prisoners in Israel while the those holding Gilad Schalit prohibit anyone from visiting their prisoner, HaMoked lawyer Daniel Shenhar said, "Israel is a state of law and not a terrorist organization. In a state of law, one acts according to the rules and not by the principle of an eye for an eye to obtain revenge on the Hamas. Aside from the fact that barring visits constitutes collective punishment, we are also talking about very many prisoners."