Demanding that Palestinians from Gaza be Permitted to Visit their Relatives Incarcerated in Israeli Prisons, Following a Total Ban Imposed in June 2007

HCJ 5399/08 Adalah et al. v. the Defense Minister et al.
  • Israeli Supreme Court: Family visits to prisoners are not a basic humanitarian need. It is a government decision to prohibit the visits; we will not interfere
  • Israel has placed a total, sweeping ban on visits by the families of some 1000 prisoners from Gaza since June 2007.
  • Adalah: Supreme Court ignored the fact that transferring prisoners from the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) to Israel violates international humanitarian law.

On 9 December 2009, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that family members from Gaza have no right to visit their relatives incarcerated in prisons in Israel. A total ban has been in place on family visits since 2007; this prohibition has been condemned by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Approximately 1,000 prisoners from Gaza are imprisoned in Israel with no access to their families.

The court’s ruling came in response to two petitions , one filed in June 2008 by Adalah, the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights (Gaza), the Association for the Palestinian Prisoners and families of Palestinian political prisoners from Gaza, and the other submitted by HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual. The former was submitted by Adalah Attorney Abeer Baker.

In its judgment, the Supreme Court stated that: 

  • Family visits are not a basic humanitarian need for Gaza residents, which Israel must grant.
  • The Israeli government decision on this issue stems from security reasons, and the court is reluctant to interfere with such decisions.
  • There is no rights of "aliens" [Palestinians from Gaza] to enter Israel.
  • This policy was not instated to target prisoners directly, but they are affected indirectly by a legitimate government decision.
  • The need for family visits, including the families’ provision of basic supplies, is unnecessary since prisoners may obtain these items through the prison canteen. 

The Supreme Court did not address Adalah's argument that the removal of Palestinian from Gaza, and their transfer and incarceration in Israel is illegal as in contravenes the Geneva Convention.

In the petition, Adalah argued that preventing family visits has, in practice, led to the complete isolation of approximately 1,000 prisoners from the outside world. Prohibiting family visits means that Palestinian prisoners are prevented from receiving basic necessities in prison, including clothing and money, as visits are often the prisoners’ sole means of contact for these items. The Israel Prison Service has prohibited a lawyer from transferring money to a prisoner, insisting that only a member of the prisoner’s family may do so; this condition is clearly impossible as it requires the presence of a family member from Gaza in Israel.

The petition contained a number of testimonies gathered by Al Mezan from the families of Palestinian prisoners, including that of Ms. Ruweida al-Bourdini, the wife of a Gazan prisoner. She stated that, “My husband has undergone ten surgical operations during his period in prison. I found out that he had had another operation a month ago, but because there is no way of contacting him, I don’t know what his state of health is now… My children and I miss my husband very much… we want to exercise our right to visit him in prison. We have committed no sin… Why are they punishing us? Many of the petitioners have not seen their family member, imprisoned in Israel for over 2 years, and have not received any news from them aside for irregular periodic letters or reports from the Red Cross.

Attorney Baker argued in the petition that “It is apparent that preventing prisoners from the Gaza Strip from receiving family visits is designed to put pressure on the Palestinian factions to respond to Israel’s demands, thereby transforming Palestinian prisoners into pawns used by Israel in order to secure political gains that have absolutely no relation to the official reason for their imprisonment.”

Case citation: H.C. 5399/08, Adalah et al. v. The Defense Minister et al. (decision delivered 9 December 2009)

Supreme Court Decision (English)