Adalah and the Hamoked Center for Defence of the Individual (Hamoked) filed a petition to the Supreme Court on 31 May 2004, seeking the cancellation of a new order which conditions the issuance and extension of entry permits to the Gaza Strip for citizens and residents of Israel upon their commitment to remain in the Gaza Strip for three consecutive months. The petition was filed on behalf of four families who have been affected by the new order, against IDF Major General, Southern Command. The new order was recently issued by the Southern Command, with the intent of limiting the use of the Erez checkpoint. Prior to filing the petition, Adalah and Hamoked demanded that the Israeli military legal advisor immediately cancel the new order. No response was received to their motion.
Some Arab residents and citizens of Israel have close family ties to residents of the Gaza Strip. Since 1994, however, entry to the Gaza Strip has been conditioned upon obtaining a special permit issued by the Southern Command, which has consistently restricted the entry of Israeli citizens and residents to the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, the criteria for receiving the permit have never been published, and have been repeatedly tightened since 1994. The policy recently initiated by the Southern Command concerning the entry of Israeli residents and/or citizens to the Gaza Strip who do not fall within the category of a ï¿½split familyï¿½ (a citizen or resident of Israel whose spouse or children reside in the Gaza Strip), has been subject to further limitations, and thus virtually no entry permits have been granted. Entry permits to the Gaza Strip have been issued in certain limited circumstances, namely for visiting an immediate family member in a critical medical condition, verified by medical documentation, and for attending the funeral or wedding of an immediate family member. There has, however, been one exception to this policy; that entry into the Gaza Strip for Israeli residents and citizens married to residents of the Gaza Strip was not limited, allowing ï¿½split familiesï¿½ to maintain a family life. The procedure administrating their passage from Israel to the Gaza Strip, named the ï¿½split families procedureï¿½, has been in force constantly, except for short periods of suspension. Whilst, members of ï¿½split familiesï¿½ have been faced with numerous difficulties in entering the Gaza Strip, the principle of permitting ï¿½split familiesï¿½ to maintain a family life has been officially adhered to since 1994.
Since April 2004, however, with the exception of two days in May, the ï¿½split families procedureï¿½ has been canceled. During these two days, the entry of citizens and residents of Israel into the Gaza Strip has been made conditional upon their signing a document stating their agreement not to leave the Gaza Strip and re-enter Israel, for three consecutive months. To date, Israeli citizens and residents are still being prevented from entering the Gaza Strip, including those with spouses and children living in the Gaza Strip. Extending the permits of Israeli citizens and residents who are currently in the Gaza Strip is conditioned upon the obligation to remain in the Gaza Strip for three consecutive months.
In the petition, Adalah attorney Orna Kohn and Hamoked attorney Yossi Wolfson argue that the new order specifically affects and targets Arab citizens and residents of Israel, since it is overwhelmingly they who marry Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. Since the order does not affect Israeli citizens and residents requesting to enter the Gaza Strip to visit settlements, the petitioners argue that the new order constitutes discrimination on the basis of national belonging. Furthermore, the petitioners argue that the new order blatantly discriminates against Arab citizens and residents of Israel who are married to, or are parents of, residents of the Gaza Strip, thereby violating their constitutional rights to family life, dignity, equality and privacy, and breaching their constitutional right to enter Israel. As such, argue the petitioners, the objective of this order is inappropriate, and unacceptably broad and sweeping. The new order ï¿½splits families, separates parents and children, husbands and wives, and forces families to make cruel and inhumane choicesï¿½. The petitioners further argue that ï¿½the respondent is now violating the rights of people whose only wish is to persevere with what is already a problematic routine, by confronting them with a choice between their family and their country, separation and transferï¿½.
The petition details the severe repercussions of this order on the lives of ï¿½split familiesï¿½. For instance, as a consequence of this order, Dr. Ibrahim Aï¿½ashur, an Arab citizen of Israel residing in Beer el-Sebe (Beï¿½er Sheva), has been prevented from seeing his wife and five children, who reside in the Gaza Strip, for over two months. Dr. Aï¿½ashur has not received a response to his application for an entry permit to the Gaza Strip in order to visit his family, but has been told that when his entry is granted, it will be conditioned upon his commitment not to return to Israel for three consecutive months. A further example is the case of Ms. Zulfa Housaini, an Arab citizen of Israel, who has been dividing her time between the Gaza Strip and Haifa, since her request to grant her husband, a resident of the Gaza Strip, legal status in Israel has been refused. She was forced to sign a document stating that she would not return to Israel for three consecutive months, in order for the permit enabling her to remain in the Gaza Strip with her husband and children to be extended.