Obligations to Gaza at heart of latest High Court petition

State claims that disengagement ended all humanitarian obligations to Gaza in case pushing for travel between Gaza and West Bank.

court gavel 88 (photo credit: )
court gavel 88
(photo credit: )
Does Israel still have humanitarian responsibilities for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, or has its unilateral disengagement relieved it of them? This is the crucial question that has arisen over a High Court petition submitted by the human rights organization Gisha, the Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement, demanding that the state allow 10 occupational therapy students from Gaza to study in the West Bank. Their requests to leave Gaza and enter the West Bank were denied on the grounds that Israel bars virtually everyone 16-35 from crossing over, "and all the more so students, who constitute an especially 'high-risk' group." The state argued in response to the petition that, after Israel removed its troops from Gaza, it did not have any obligation to allow the students "to cross over from the Gaza Strip, an area which is no longer under [Israeli] military control, to Judea and Samaria." The state's representative, Haran Reichman, claimed that although there was "some degree of linkage" between Gaza and the West Bank, each had been declared a separate closed area after the Six Day War. That status no longer applied to Gaza, as the IDF was no longer located there; Israel, therefore, did not owe the residents of Gaza anything any more, and the state was under no special obligation to allow anybody to leave Gaza or to enter the West Bank. According to Reichman, if the state had obligations to Gaza residents, one could argue by the same token that it had similar obligations to residents of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. The Syrians claim that all of the Golan is one territorial unit, just as the petitioners maintain that the West Bank and Gaza are one territorial unit. The petitioners rejected the state's arguments on the grounds that the comparison between the circumstances in Gaza and Syria was a false one. "Israel does not close Syria's borders, preventing supplies of medicine and baby food," wrote Gisha attorney Sari Bashi. "A Syrian university doesn't need Israeli approval to bring an Irish lecturer to teach occupational therapy. A Syrian citizen does not need Israeli permission to add her newborn baby to the Syrian population registry. Israel doesn't collect taxes in Syria and doesn't determine whether Syrian civil servants will receive their salaries. Syrian NGOs don't need Israeli permission to receive customs exemptions for donated goods." According to Bashi, although Israel no longer maintains a physical presence in the Gaza Strip, it still applies all of the above controls, and others, to the population there. "Disengagement did not put an end to the state's responsibilities to the Palestinians, because broad aspects of their lives remained under Israeli control," she wrote. "Israel has humanitarian responsibilities for the Palestinians stemming from the controls it exerts upon them." These include control of all the Gaza-Israel and Gaza-Egypt crossings - Rafiah, Karni, Erez and Sufa - giving it complete control over the entry and exit of goods and nearly complete control of the entry of foreigners. Israel does not allow entries to or departures from Gaza by land or sea. Israel also determines whether or not NGOs operating in Gaza will have to pay customs duties. Similarly, by controlling a significant part of the PA budget through monthly transfer of Israeli-collected PA tax revenues, whether PA civil servants will receive their salaries. Since Israel still has a crucial say in the level of humanitarian services that the residents of the Gaza Strip receive, it also had humanitarian obligations to the population, wrote Bashi. This included allowing the 10 occupational therapy students to study in the West Bank, she said.