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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What happens when a Gazan wants to marry a West Bank woman?

by Amira Hass on December 19, 2011


Did you know that Israel allows Gaza residents to enter the West Bank to attend their relatives' weddings but not to get betrothed themselves? You don't believe it? Ehab is the proof.


Ehab, who did not want to be identified by his full name, is a man of 26. Ah, you will say, he is dangerous - young and single. A person like that, who knows what will go through his head if he is allowed to pass through Israel?

Palestinian students wear traditional clothing during a cultural event at the Bethlehem University, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Thursday, March 22, 2007. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
Palestinian students wear traditional clothing during a cultural event at the Bethlehem University, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Thursday, March 22, 2007. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

Firstly, last year we did let him pass through Israel - twice. (Twice!) And even though he traversed the 70 kilometers from Gaza to the West Bank, Israel's security was not undermined. The first time, in January of 2010, he received permission to go to the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem to submit an application for a visa. The second time, on April 8, after having received the visa, he passed through Israel on his way to Amman, and from there flew to Ohio, where he is studying for a master's degree in information systems management.

Secondly, now that he wants to enter the West Bank to ask the parents of the woman he loves for her hand in marriage, as tradition requires, he will not even set foot in sovereign Israeli territory.
Ehab is not only studying; he is also working as a teaching assistant at his university, and planned his trip so his betrothal would take place during the semester break. And if you say it is his own fault, for choosing to marry someone who lives in the West Bank (which could endanger the demographic balance there, heaven help us ), we have no answer to that, no "thirdly" or "fourthly."

Like every Gazan, Ehab knows he needs an Israeli permit to enter the West Bank from Jordan. And so well in advance, even before he landed in Amman on December 10 of this year, he contacted Gisha so the legal advocacy group for freedom of movement could submit the application on his behalf. Here are the steps that followed suit:

1. On November 22, Gisha applied in writing to the army's Coordination and Liaison Office for Gaza and requested a permit for Ehab. For this is one of the bureaucratic rules of the closure and the separation between Gaza and the West Bank: Everyone who has a Gaza address in his identity card and needs any kind of Israeli permit must apply to the liaison office, even if he resides in Ramallah - or New York. Days passed and no answer came.

2. On December 6 Gisha wrote to the Justice Ministry's department of petitions to the High Court of Justice, a procedure called a "pre-petition" that sometimes gets the authorities to move more quickly. The pre-petition did indeed get something moving.

3. On the very same day the answer came back: Ehab must direct his request to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in the Gaza Strip, and only after the committee forwards the request to the Israeli side will the Israel authorities consider it. (The civil affairs committee serves as the postman between Palestinians and the Israeli liaison office, which makes the decisions. ) Logical? Not very.

4. The Coordination and Liaison Office knows that the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee does not accept requests to enter the West Bank from Gazans who are not physically in Gaza. Why not? Because according to the Palestinian committee, the army's liaison office usually declines to even process them.

5. Nevertheless, on December 8, Ehab's mother filed a request with the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in Gaza (which is subordinate to the Civil Affairs Ministry in the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah ), asking for permission for him to enter the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge in order to become engaged to marry. The civil affairs committee acceded to the pleas of Gisha and sent the request to the military liaison office. Days went by and no answer came.

6. On December 14 Gisha petitioned the High Court of Justice with a request to allow Ehab to enter the West Bank for a defined period, to ask for the hand of the woman he wants to marry, who is slated to join him in the United States.

7. On the same day Gisha received a reply from the liaison office's center for public applications. It was dated December 13. The name of the person who wrote it was not noted, but that person's superior officers are Col. Khatib Mansour, the head of the Coordination and Liaison Administration for Gaza, and Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, coordinator of government activities in the territories.

The reply states: "Firstly, we will note that in accordance with the working procedures agreed upon with the Palestinian Authority, all applications concerning entry of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory must be addressed to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee, which constitutes the body responsible for coordination, prioritization and transfer to the Israeli side of applications from Palestinian inhabitants of the Judea and Samaria District and the Gaza Strip. Moreover, it should be noted that at the present time, in light of the current political and security situation, entry of Gaza Strip residents into Israel is not allowed apart from exceptional humanitarian cases with emphasis on urgent medical cases.

"For details of all the criteria ... you are invited to enter the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories site on the Internet... Specifically, let it be made clear immediately that after looking into your client's matter is has been decided to refuse his request [emphasis added]."

8. A look at the criteria finds that the terminally ill are not the only privileged few allowed entry; so are those who seek "entry for purposes of attending the wedding or the funeral of a first-degree relative."

You will say, and rightly, that betrothal is not among the criteria, nor is a person's own wedding. Tomorrow the High Court of Justice will hold a hearing on the petition filed by Gisha on Ehab's behalf.

The ban preventing Palestinians officially registered in Gaza from using the Allenby Bridge crossing into the West Bank came well before Hamas' rise to power in 2006 and 2007. Back in 1991, Israeli authorities introduced a sweeping closure policy for the first time, requiring all Palestinians to obtain a permit if they wanted to travel between the West Bank and Gaza.

The more stingy the Israeli authorities were in granting travel permits, the more that Gazans, particularly university students but also others, sought out creative solutions. They traveled through Egypt, flew to Jordan and entered the West Bank from there.

After all, under the Oslo Accords, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank constitute a single territorial unit. Israel saw the "leak" at the Allenby Bridge and got scared. In 1997, as part of the gradual, quiet steps designed to cut Gaza off from the West Bank, Israel decided that Gazans taking the Allenby Bridge route would also require a permit, the kind of permit that is almost never granted.

The logical steps in the process of cutting off Gaza were to follow. A Gazan without Israeli permission to stay in the West Bank was eventually classified as "an illegal sojourner." And now, that illegal sojourner is classified as an infiltrator, to be deported any minute.

* Amira Hass is a prominent Israeli journalist and author, mostly known for her columns in the daily newspaper Ha'aretz. She is particularly recognized for her reporting on Palestinian affairs in the West Bank and Gaza, where she has also lived for a number of years.

The daughter of two Holocaust survivors, and was educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. On Oct. 20, the International Women's Media Network reward Hass the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award. Hass was the recipient of the Press Freedom Hero award from the International Press Institute in 2000, the Bruno Kreisky Human Rights Award in 2002, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2003, the inaugural award from the Anna Lindh Memorial Fund in 2004 and Hrant Dink Memorial Award in 2009.

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