The Israeli army is refusing to process humanitarian requests from Palestinians and Israeli Arabs seeking to leave or enter the Gaza Strip if the necessary documents that they submit are labeled with a “State of Palestine” header.
In most cases, the heading appears on medical records or death certificates issued by Palestinian hospitals in the Gaza Strip. In many cases, documents have been rejected even though there were no factual disputes regarding the basis for the request.
A 60-year-old resident of the Israeli Bedouin village of Tarabin Asana, who sought to enter Gaza to pay a condolence visit over the death of her father, was one such case. She submitted an application to the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories along with her father’s death certificate, but the request was rejected because the certificate, which was issued by the Hamas-controlled government in Gaza, included the heading “State of Palestine.”
“The State of Israel does not accept documents form the ‘State of Palestine,'” the response that she received stated. “Legible documents should be submitted that do not have this heading or that are its equivalent in any language.”
Other recipients received the same response, and the Israeli government has taken the same position in court. One such case came up in connection with a petition filed in Jerusalem District Court by the Israeli human rights organization Gisha seeking permission for a Gaza resident and her three children to travel to the West Bank.
They were seeking to make the trip to visit the woman’s husband, who was undergoing life-threatening surgery. They petitioned the court after prior requests were rejected without explanation.
At a hearing on the case, it was agreed that Gisha would submit an official medical document issued by the Palestinian Health Ministry to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories pertaining to the woman’s husband’s critical condition. The Israeli government demanded, however, that the document only be submitted to it via the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in Gaza, explaining that it “doesn’t transfer documents with the heading ‘State of Palestine.'” The woman only received permission to travel to the West Bank after she submitted the document to the Civil Affairs Committee and the “State of Palestine” heading was obscured.
In another case, a 72-year-old Israeli citizen applied to enter the Gaza Strip on a condolence visit due to the death of her brother. The woman submitted her brother’s death certificate, but the staff of the Israeli District Coordination and Liaison office claimed that the documents were not in order.
When staff from Gisha contacted the office, they were reportedly told that “the State of Israel does not recognize the State of Palestine and any document that we receive with such a heading from our standpoint is a document that is not in order.”
After a number of such cases surfaced, Israel’s Center for the Defense of the Individual (also known by its Hebrew name, Hamoked) contacted the head of the District Coordination and Liaison office at the Erez crossing on the Gaza border demanding that the army put a stopto the new practice.
“The District Coordination and Liaison office’s refusal to consider requests with documents with the heading ‘State of Palestine’ is motivated by extraneous political considerations that are not relevant to the essence of the request and violate the applicants’ rights,” Hamoked asserted.
The group argued that the only relevant considerations regarding the documents should be whether they are originals and whether they support the granting of the application to travel in and out of Gaza.
“Gaza Strip residents’ right to a family life is reduced to the most exceptional circumstances: a wedding, serious illness or a relative’s funeral,” Hamoked’s executive director, Jessica Montell, said. “But even at such sensitive moments, the army is mistreating people who need the approval and is refusing to permit people to attend the funeral of their mother or sister only because a logo that bothers the soldiers appears on the document that proves the urgent need for the visit. That’s outrageous and completely illegitimate conduct.”
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said in its response for this article that it had been contacted recently on the issue and that it would be “considered and responded to by the relevant officials, as is customary.”