The Israeli human rights group Gisha, which advocates for freedom of movement for residents of the besieged Gaza Strip, last week appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court a judgement upholding the policy that allows Christians —but not Muslims—to exit the besieged Gaza Strip for worship at Jerusalem’s holy sites. The ruling by the Beer Sheva District Court rejected a petition filed in February by seven Muslim women from the Gaza Strip. The petitioners sought to enter Israel in order to exercise their right to freedom of worship and pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque. Despite the declared sensitivity towards freedom of worship at Jerusalem’s holy sites, Israel does not allow the entry of Muslim worshippers from Gaza, even subject to security screening, but does allow Christian worshippers to enter.
The court rejected the petition and ordered the petitioners to pay legal fees in the unprecedented amount of 25,000 NIS (approx. $7,250). In the appeal, Gisha claims that the district court reached on erroneous legal conclusions that contravene the state’s obligation to maintain equality and freedom of worship with respect to access to sites that are holy to all religions.
Gisha also filed a motion to defer payment of the unprecedented costs, an order which was accompanied by disdainful remarks toward Gisha by the court’s Justice Eliyahu Bitan—including referring to Gisha as a “human rights” organization (quotation marks in the original). Gisha states: “The human rights community is concerned that the judge’s decision is part of the trend toward restricting the activities of human rights organization.” (Gisha, June 20)