Four Israeli citizens are being denied the right to visit Israel, see their families and update their documents at the Interior Ministry - just because they happen to live in the Gaza Strip, according to their lawyer.
This would never happen if, for instance, the women lived in the United States, charged Nomi Heger of Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, who is representing them. In that case, a way would be found to enable the visit even if they lacked the necessary Israeli documents, she said.
Gisha's efforts to solve the problem with the Interior Ministry, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the army's Coordination and Communication Office for Gaza all came to nothing, even though these agencies do not deny that the women are citizens. It therefore took their cases to court.
The first petitioner, who filed suit in the Be'er Sheva District Court, is a Mrs. Wahidi. She was born in Rehovot in 1965, converted to Islam with her mother in the 1980s, married a resident of Gaza and has lived with him there for years.
After her eldest son was born, the Israeli Civil Administration ordered her to turn in her Israeli identity card and replace it with Gaza residency papers, so that she could register the boy's birth and obtain health care services. At that time, Israel still controlled the Strip directly.
Her mother, 77, still lives in Israel, and Wahidi hasn't visited her since 1999. Only in 2011 did Wahidi learn that as an Israeli citizen, she is entitled to enter the country. Since then, she has been trying unsuccessfully to obtain the necessary permit from the Coordination and Communication Office.
The other three petitioners, who filed suit in the Jerusalem District Court, are three sisters born in Nahariya between 1979 and 1984 to an Israeli mother and a Palestinian father. Their mother died when they were young, after which they moved with their father to Gaza. But they have two sisters who live in Israel.
Until 2005, the Dabas sisters visited Israel regularly. After the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, however, entry restrictions were tightened, and they were unable to visit for the next six years. In 2011, they obtained a one-time entry permit (as Gaza residents ) to attend their sister's wedding, unaware that as citizens, they had a right to enter. Since August 2012, they have been unsuccessfully trying to get another entry permit.
In an emailed letter to Gisha, attorney Irit Weisblum of the Interior Ministry wrote that the sisters "are Israeli citizens, but don't have Israeli documentation that would enable their unambiguous identification when they arrive at the border to enter Israel." In other words, because they are citizens, they can't get entry permits as Gaza residents, but because they are Gaza residents, the authorities won't make it possible for them to enter as citizens.
When Wahidi applied for her permit, she was told that she had to first come to the Erez checkpoint between Israel and Gaza for an interrogation by the Shin Bet security service. She refused. Gisha claims this condition is illegal.
Later, she was told by the Coordination and Communication Office that she would be allowed to enter on her Israeli identity card - which she no longer has. In other words, the system knows she is Israeli, but is ignoring the fact that her ID card was deposited with the Civil Administration (the former name of the Coordination and Communication Office ) about 10 years ago.
The Be'er Sheva court will hear Wahidi's case in late February, while the Jerusalem court will hear the Dabas sisters' case in early March.