Refusal to grant travel documents traps family in Gaza for 10 years

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30 January 2012, Gaza City - 10 December was International Human Rights Day, the day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. To mark the day, OHCHR (oPT) and UNRWA are putting the spotlight on human rights stories and rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory. In this series, we look at how the occupation and its associated regime affect the daily lives of ordinary Palestinians, raising questions about the protection of their human rights.

Mona Khrais, 26, her mother and father, and five of her siblings, are trapped in Gaza. Whether border crossings to Egypt or Israel are open, or they receive prestigious invitations abroad, is irrelevant. The Khrais family does not have travel documents or passports and cannot obtain them.

Mona’s father, Abd Elfattah Khrais, has experienced double exile. He fled to Gaza in 1948 as a refugee. During the 1967 war, he was studying abroad, and was forbidden from returning by the occupying Israeli authority. Israel re-categorised him as a “displaced person” and refused to identify him as Palestinian.

Abd lived in exile for 33 years, married, and had eight children in Saudi Arabia. The family was able to obtain Egyptian travel documents, which Egypt grants to Palestinians living outside of Palestine. They used these documents to enter Gaza in 2000 as visitors. Two of Mona’s siblings travelled to Canada and the United Arab Emirates instead, and are now unable to rejoin the family.

Trapped in Gaza since age 16

Mona has not left Gaza since she entered at age 16. “Now, I have local identification to use just inside Gaza,” Mona explains. “But outside these borders, it is meaningless.” Mona’s situation and treatment are in direct violation of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

They are caught in a complicated conflict of identification and denied their right to citizenship: Egypt cannot re-issue the Khrais family’s expired travel documents, which are only given to Palestinians living outside of Palestine. However, the family cannot apply for travel documents from the Palestinian Authority, as Israel denies them official Palestinian identification. “Everyone has the right to a nationality”, states Article 15 of the UDHR. By denying identification to Palestinians who lack second citizenship, the Israeli authorities also violate the human right to nationality.

Mona has tried to make the best of the past 10 years. She works at the Centre for Human Rights in Gaza and is completing an advanced degree in Business Administration. However, she dreams of travelling to see her brother and sister abroad, and of being able to complete her degree outside of Gaza.