Gisha Appeals Court Decision That Violates Muslim Freedom of Worship

 

PNN – Palestine News Network – 20.06.11 – 12:41

Gaza – PNN – Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, has today appealed a court judgement which does not allow Muslims from Gaza the worship freely at Jerusalem’s holy sites.

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The State of Israel allows Christian worshippers to exit the Gaza Strip in order to visit Jerusalem to worship, but the same privilege is not granted to Muslims from the same area.

The Supreme Court has rejected the petition of seven Muslim women from the Gaza Strip to exercise their right to enter Jerusalem in order to worship at al-Aqsa mosque.

On Monday Gisha issued a press release outlining their appeal to the Supreme Court, saying, “There is no justification for discrimination on the basis of religion: Christians enjoy freedom of movement, Muslims do not.”

In the appeal, Gisha draws attention to “the state’s obligation to maintain equality and freedom of worship with respect to access to sites that are holy to all religions, under statutory law, case law and international human rights law.”

Gisha, founded in 2005, is a legal organization which seeks to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, particularly in the Gaza Strip, based on rights guaranteed under international and Israeli law.

Gisha also submitted a petition to the Beer Sheva District Court in February, requesting freedom of worship for all religions. The court rejected the petition and charged legal fees of 25,000 NIS. Gisha, a non-profit organization, has filed a motion to defer these costs, which it calls “unprecedented” and “exceptionally high.”

“The courts rarely order the petitioners to pay legal fees, even when the petition is denied,” says Gisha. “The human rights community is concerned that the judge’s decision is part of the trend towards restricting the activities of human rights organizations.”

In the court’s judgement, Gisha is referred to, in quotations, as a “human rights” organization. Attorney Nomi Heger wrote that this judgement “hints at a sense of skepticism that Gisha and other similar organizations are indeed primarily concerned with protecting human rights.”

Furthermore, the judgement by Justice Bitan invents a new category of “professional petitioners.” Gisha has voiced concerns, saying that this sets “a dangerous precedent that potentially shuts the doors of the court to organizations that engage in legal advocacy on behalf of disenfranchised populations.”

Since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel has restricted the movement of 3.4 million Palestinians through a complex system of rules and sanctions.

According to Gisha, these restrictions “violate the fundamental right of Palestinians to freedom of movement,” as well as other basic rights, such as the right to freedom of religion.

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