RAMALLAH, West Bank // A Gaza-born woman recently sneaked into her native land through a smuggler tunnel because the legal route was blocked. A car mechanic who settled in the West Bank 15 years ago to raise a family lives in fear of deportation because his ID card says he is originally from Gaza.
They are among the thousands of Palestinians who the New York-based Human Rights Watch says have had their lives disrupted by Israeli restrictions on residency in the West Bank and Gaza, territories that were captured by Israel in 1967.
In a report issued yesterday, Human Rights Watch called on Israel to lift restrictions on residency, saying they were often arbitrary and violate international and human-rights law, including the right to family life.
"The result has been to split families apart, to arbitrarily ban people from moving around and to arbitrarily prevent a large number of people from returning to their own homes," said the report's author, Bill Van Esveld. Human Rights Watch said about 35,000 Gazans who moved to the West Bank remain there without permits, while Israel last year agreed to register 2,800 as West Bank residents.
The US government has estimated that about 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and 1.6 million in Gaza.
Israel handed some 40 per cent of the West Bank to Palestinian self-rule in the 1990s and withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but never relinquished the final say over who would be a legal resident of the territories. Israel has cited security grounds for retaining the right to block entry.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel has granted residency in the West Bank and Gaza to tens of thousands of Palestinians over the years and accused Human Rights Watch of anti-Israel bias.
He said Israel's policies are subject to review "by a fiercely independent judiciary".