IDF invokes ‘security risk’ to thwart rare win for Gazan travel rights

The  NGO Gisha had reason to believe, some ten days ago, that it won a small victory: The High Court of Justice, which couldn’t stomach the tricks of the security apparatus any longer, ordered it to explain why it rejects requests by four female students from Gaza to move to the West Bank to study there (we covered the case of a fifth student here). The HCJ rarely does that; when it does, it is generally a hint that the policy defended by the government is highly unreasonable.

The problem is the policy of the IDF, practiced with various degrees of severity over the last decade, preventing Gazans from travelling to the West Bank and vice versa. There is reason to believe that what the government calls a “policy of differentiation” (mediniut ha’bidul) is an attempt to sever the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, slowly pushing it towards Egypt. The IDF, which prides itself on being more moral than Hamas, does allow a small number of “humanitarian cases” to move from Gaza to the West Bank. It is not humanitarian enough, however, to allow children to move to the West Bank and live with their mothers, for instance. Even though the HCJ accepted the IDF position as a rule, it recommended several times that the IDF create an “exceptions committee,” to rule on exceptions to the ban. As par for the course, the IDF ignored this recommendation; hence the rather severe decision by the court.

But the triumphant feeling among Gisha workers (due notice: I sometimes provide Gisha with translation services on a freelance basis) quickly  evaporated. Several days ago, Major General Eitan Dangot, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, gave the court his reply (it can be seen here, in a Hebrew pdf). In article 61 of the document, Dangot claims there is a security-related reason to prevent two of the petitioners (one and two) from entering the West Bank. Dangot claims that, regarding Petitioner 1, there exists “security intelligence” that she is “in contact with terror activists, including family members of the first degree”; as to Petitioner 2, he claims there is intelligence about “her activity in a terrorist organization, and her contact with terror activists, some of whom are family members of the first degree.” As for appellants 3 and 4, he says “given certain intelligence regarding them, as we are asked to examine their particular case, they will be summoned for interrogation.” Meaning that if they want to leave the Gaza Strip, they have to be interrogated by the ISA (AKA Shin Bet).

Several comments are warranted. For starters, this is the first time the IDF claims there is any security reason to prevent the petitioners from leaving. As Gisha noted in its reply (Hebrew document – see articles 17-25), the state was asked twice in court whether there are any security reasons to prevent them from leaving, and replied in the negative. So the state now must decide whether it was neglectful when it replied negatively, or whether it is lying now.

Four women get up in the morning one day, and find out the IDF has decided they are a security risk. The fact that they are a new, shiny threat is of particular interest given that Petitioners 3 and 4 have entered Israel several times in the past. Apparently, before they were about to defeat the IDF in court, they weren’t a risk; but as soon as the security apparatus sensed it was about to be defeated, suddenly there emerged “certain intelligence regarding them.” It does not even have to explain what it is. The IDF, too, now has to decide whether it was dangerously derelict in its duty when it allowed such nefarious terrorists to enter Israel – several times, to boot – or whether it fabricates a nonexistent threat from whole cloth.

As for the claims regarding Petitioners 1 and 2, their essence is that they are, alas, in contact with family members who are Hamas activists. Newsflash: the Hamas controls the Gaza Strip since 2007. The core of its activity was always social (carrying out Dawa activities – charities and preaching) and not military. Its Dawa activities granted it as much legitimacy in the Gazan street as did its military activities: While Arafat was always creating a new militia or a new “security apparatus,” Sheikh Yassin was building a new clinic, another school. Israel always refused to acknowledge these two often separate parts of Hamas, and it considered the manager of a Hamas-funded orphanage as much a member of a terrorist organization as the leader of a military squad. Since Hamas came to power in the Strip, Israel made life for its inhabitants harsher – which just forced much of the population to turn to Hamas for aid. Gisha notes, regarding the claim that Petitioner 2 is “involved in a terrorist organization,” that she manages the women’s project in the Union of Farmers’ Committees in the Gaza Strip. Turns out, when the Green Beast is desperate enough, even such an organization can be considered a “terrorist organization.”

The most risible part of this charge is that it can’t be refuted. The IDF, naturally, will not say who the relatives are who are allegedly involved in terrorism, since then it would have to defend this claim. As for the demand that Petitioners 3 and 4 should report for ISA interrogation – which they vehemently refuse to do – it’s common knowledge that the ISA tries to force people asking for any sort of permit to serve as its collaborators. Sometimes, when a person flatly refuses to do so, it spreads false rumors that this specific person is a collaborator – a quick way to die in the Palestinian territories.

The IDF, some skeptics have already noticed, is using the excuse of “security risk” even when none exists, simply because it works. Now we see it uses it when it is about to lose in court, and fabricates a whole new threat where it earlier said none exists. Next time the IDF says that some security risks exists – whether it is Iran or some terrorist organization attacking from Sinai, logically prompting an IDF attack on Gaza – remember it never learned the habit of telling the truth, and ask questions. Israel certainly faces some security risks. It’s a shame its security apparatus cannot be believed when it issues warnings about them.