HRW: Policy on Palestinian residency ‘arbitrary'

Israeli policies have stripped thousands of Palestinians of the ability to live in the West Bank or Gaza with their families, NGO says.

IDF checkpoint 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF checkpoint 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli government policies regarding Palestinian residency have stripped thousands of Palestinians of the ability to live in the West Bank or Gaza with their families, and severely restricted their movement between the two territories, the NGO Human Rights Watch said in a report issued Sunday.
In the 90-page report, entitled “Forget about Him, He’s Not Here,” the NGO states that Israel “has used Palestinians’ residency status as a tool to control their ability to reside in, move within, and travel abroad from the West Bank, as well as to travel from Gaza to Israel and the West Bank.”
According to HRW, these Israeli measures “vastly exceed what could be justified under international law as needed to address legitimate security concerns, and have dire consequences for Palestinians’ ability to enjoy such basic rights as the right to family life and access to health care and education facilities.”
Bill Van Esveld, who compiled the report for HRW, said it was put together over an eight-month period using information from Israeli and foreign NGOs, as well as a large number of personal interviews with Palestinians affected by the population registry.
Van Esveld referred to the regulations as “an endless bureaucracy that people are always getting left on the wrong side of,” and called on Israel to examine each entry or residence permit on an individual basis, rather than to rely on blanket bans effecting hundreds of thousands of people.
Van Esveld said he understands the security concerns facing Israeli authorities responsible for approving these permits. “There is definitely a real security concern [for Israel], the question is what’s the relation between the security concern and this policy? And our position is you can – and should – screen people to see if they are a security threat, but not to propose a blanket ban on everybody.”
He said that even almost seven years after the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Israel still has de facto control over Palestinian freedom of movement into the Gaza Strip, in that the Egyptians continue to use Israeli approved IDs and passports as the criteria for allowing Palestinians to enter or exit the Gaza Strip.
In it’s recommendations section, the report proposes that Israel “recognize and respect the residency rights of Palestinians and their family members, including the rights to reside and travel where they choose and to freely enter and leave the territory,” and to immediately cancel “arbitrary” restrictions on these rights.
It also calls for an end to quotas on family reunification requests, and for backlogged requests to be processed at an expedited pace.
In response to the report, Government Spokesman Mark Regev said Sunday that HRW “has a documented record of anti-Israel bias and of getting it wrong in the Middle East.” He also criticized the report’s usage of the term “arbitrary” to describe Israeli government practices.
Regev added that “everyone knows Israel is a democracy and we have a powerful and vibrant independent judiciary,” and said those who believe Israeli government practices are arbitrary can turn to the Israeli courts to hear the matter.