The eleven-day protest of Ahmed Sabeh, released from an Israeli prison on Wednesday, April 21, 2010, and taken to the Gaza Strip – even though his home, wife and son are in Tulkarem – raises an interesting challenge to Israel’s control over the borders and population registry of the occupied Palestinian territory. Mr. Sabeh has camped out inside the Erez Crossing, refusing to enter Gaza, in protest of Israel’s refusal to allow him to return to his home in the West Bank. The Hamas government, in turn, has announced that it will not allow him back into Gaza, in order to avoid facilitating the Israeli policy of removing Palestinians from the West Bank.
Mr. Sabeh, represented by HaMoked – Center for the Defence of the Individual, was taken to Gaza as part of a policy to remove from the West Bank Palestinians whose addresses in the Israeli controlled population registry are listed in Gaza, a policy strengthened by a new military order that gives the military broad powers to deport and arrest.
His refusal to enter Gaza – and the Hamas government’s refusal to receive him – provide a window into Israel’s double-bind policy on control of Gaza. On the one hand, Israel claims that it has ended its occupation of Gaza and that Gaza is a “foreign” and even “hostile” entity for whose 1.5 million residents – Israel bears no responsibility. On the other hand, Israel has determined, that Mr. Sabeh is a “resident” of the supposedly “foreign” entity of Gaza (through Israel’s control of the Palestinian Population Registry) and that Israel may force him to live there (through Israel’s control of Gaza’s borders).
Compare Mr. Sabeh’s plight with that of Palestinians who entered the West Bank from Jordan, but Israel refuses to “recognize” their residence and issue them Palestinian ID cards. Israel does not try to deport them to Jordan, because Israel cannot dictate who is a citizen of Jordan and cannot force Jordan, a sovereign state, to accept a deportee. Not so for Gaza, part of the occupied Palestinian territory, where Israel decides who is a Palestinian resident and uses its control to dictate where he or she may live (in the case of Mr. Sabeh – thus far with only limited success).
Gaza Gateway will soon be adding to its weekly updates statistics about the movement of persons through Gaza’s crossings – and we’ll be sure to include data about those stuck in the middle.