Crossposted from Haaretz
by Amira Hass
An elephant will be sitting Wednesday in the courtroom of Supreme Court
justices Asher Grunis, Salim Joubran and Noam Sohlberg. The elephant
will occupy the places of the five plaintiffs, who will be absent: five
women from the Gaza Strip who were accepted into Bir Zeit University in
the West Bank. Four want to go on to a master’s degree in gender studies.
Of these, three are in their 40s and one is in her 30s. The fifth is a
young woman who graduated from high school with honors and has enrolled
in law school. The justices will see the elephant in the room, but
what’s to be done with it?
An attorney representing the state will explain why it is opposed to
granting these women permits to pass through Israel and passes to stay
in the West Bank. The key word here, of course, is security.
“Since September 2000 the Palestinian terror organizations have been
waging an armed confrontation against the State of Israel,” reads the
traditional formulation of the State Attorney’s Office. “Restriction of
movement” is a way to circumvent efforts “to expand the terror
infrastructures from the Gaza Strip to Judea and Samaria.” That is why
Israel permits limited movement only to people “in humanitarian and
The State Attorney’s Office knows it is difficult to argue persuasively
that four middle-aged women who have worked for years to advance women’s
rights in the Strip, and one young woman (the daughter of a well-known
jurist), will export terror infrastructure to the West Bank. That’s why
it will remind the court that the state “has broad authority to
determine who will enter its jurisdiction, and foreign nationals have no
legal right to enter the sovereign territory of the state. All the more
so when that individual is the resident of a hostile territory.”
The argument is somewhat peculiar since the educational institution is
in Bir Zeit, not Haifa. And for that reason the State Attorney’s Office
is quick to remind the justices of their previous rulings rejecting
similar requests. There’s no lack of them. Up to now the justices have
not dared annoy the elephant.
The attorneys from Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement will
remind the court that the Office of the Coordinator of Government
Activities in the Territories itself has reported on a shift in the
policy of issuing permits in the past two years: They are now given for
reasons other than just humanitarian ones.
Gisha’s attorneys could quote from COGAT’s website, which boasts that
“8,411 traders from the Gaza Strip entered Israel for work meetings;
most of them even visited Judea and Samaria, in order to strengthen the
economic and trade links among Gaza, Israel and Judea and Samaria.”
So why is it that traders are okay but university students are not?
Because Israel is under American and international pressure to ease up
on the economic side of the siege of Gaza (which costs foreign donor
countries and their taxpayers a bundle), but not to respect Gazans’
right to study in the West Bank, and because no Israeli university is
alarmed by the prohibition.
Like the State of Israel, the Hamas education ministry doesn’t like it
when Gazan youth go to the West Bank or overseas. And for good reason:
Political and religious indoctrination ebbs when horizons open up. If
Israel genuinely wanted to weaken Hamas rule, it would respect freedom
of movement, which has been restricted since 1991.
And that is the elephant in the room: Israel wants Hamas rule in the
Gaza Strip because it guarantees the disconnect between the Strip and
the West Bank. The Oslo Accords stipulate that the West Bank and Gaza
Strip are a single geographic entity, and Israel did everything possible
to separate them. Fatah and Hamas, whose competition deeply harms the
Palestinian struggle for independence, followed the Israeli script
The justices are set to contend today with the explicit argument that
these five students pose a security threat to Israel. Will they ignore
the elephant this time and acknowledge that the state’s claim is