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Last update - 10:36 13/02/2007

New directive hampers entry of Arabs, Palestinians into Gaza

By Amira Hass, Haaretz Correspondent

Israeli Arabs, West Bank residents and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem face tougher border control regulations at the Erez Crossing on the Israel-Gaza border in light of a new directive requiring Israeli citizens to present a passport or a laissez-passer when seeking to enter the Gaza Strip.

The new directive, effective February 1, adds weight to Israel's declaration that Gaza is no longer an occupied territory.

One of the implications of this directive, however, is that East Jerusalem residents living mostly in the Gaza Strip now run the risk of losing their Israeli citizenship.

A group of some 800 to 1,000 Israeli Arab citizens married to Gazans are required to renew their stay permits in the Strip every month. Jerusalem residents belonging to this group are required to undergo a prolonged bureaucratic procedure with the Civil Administration and the Interior Ministry.

According to the Center for the Defense of the Individual, the law stipulates that Palestinian East Jerusalem residents whose permanent place of resident is not Jerusalem must lose their Israeli citizenship.

The Center says the state should have announced an adaptation period that would allow Israeli citizens entering Gaza to prepare the documentation required by the new directives.

In the past two weeks the Center interceded on behalf of a few Israeli citizens who were not allowed to enter Gaza without their passports.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Sabine Hadad told Haaretz there is "no blanket decision and that we make decisions on a case-to-case basis." Arab women with Israeli citizenship who are married to Gazans have expressed their fear of losing their citizenship, but Hadad says in response that "one cannot lose one's Israeli citizenship automatically."

The experience of those women contradicts Hadad's statement to Haaretz that "no date has been set for barring the entry into the Gaza Strip without a passport. If and when such a directive is put in place, we will ensure it is advertised on the media."

At this point, West Bank and Gaza residents are exempt from presenting their passports at the crossing and use permits issued by the Civil Administration, under a directive that took effect in 1991.

The vast majority of Israelis affected by the new directive are Israeli Arabs and residents of East Jerusalem who do not have Israeli citizenship. Most of these have relatives in the Gaza Strip.

According to Gisha, the Center for the Legal Protection of the Freedom of Movememnt, a West Bank resident who works in the Gaza Strip was required to present a passport in addition to the laissez-passer in his possession. This incident shows the bureaucratic indeterminacy that pervades border control authorities.

Hadad clarified that, "West Bank residents are required to coordinate their entry [into Gaza] with the Army, their entry is not related to the Interior Ministry."

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