Last Wednesday, Gisha was notified that Israel would grant a resident of Gaza a permit, allowing him to visit his four-year-old son who is scheduled to undergo surgery this week in the West Bank. The boy has been hospitalised in Ramallah since he was only two months old, with a complex medical condition requiring around-the-clock treatment and supervision. The child’s mother has been by his side the whole time, while the father lives in Gaza, raising the couple’s seven other children. He has only been allowed to visit his son once, about two years ago. The child has never met his siblings. Though the family is separated by just a few dozen kilometers, Israel’s restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement, and its “separation policy,” aimed at separating Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and those living in the West Bank, mean they can hardly ever meet, even in such difficult circumstances.
Two months ago, the father applied for a permit to exit Gaza and visit his son in the West Bank. A month went by, but no response arrived from the Gaza Civil Liaison Administration (CLA), the Israeli authority to which all permit applications by Gaza residents are submitted. Gisha filed an urgent request on his behalf, but it too went unanswered. It was only once we filed a High Court petition, and only on the day before the hearing was scheduled to take place, that the military authorities finally decided to process and answer the father’s permit application and grant him a permit.
Only one lower-ranking officer at the Gaza CLA is authorised to process permit applications by Gaza residents and pass them to the relevant decision-makers. Thousands of unanswered, unprocessed permit applications lie waiting for a response from the Gaza CLA at any given moment. According to the latest figures provided by Israeli authorities in September 2017 in response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by Gisha, the total number of unprocessed applications at the time exceeded 16,000. Too often, the date of travel specified in permit applications passes without a response from the CLA.
Not responding to permit applications is one of the methods used by Israel as a tool of control over residents of Gaza. It not only minimises the movement of Palestinians between Gaza, Israel and the West Bank, but also acts as a deterrent, discouraging people from submitting permit applications even when they do meet Israel’s restrictive criteria for movement.