Woman in Gaza Fights Travel Ban Imposed by Her Father

On November 3, a court in Gaza will hear the application of Afaf al-Najjar, a 19-year-old woman, to lift her father’s travel ban. She told Human Rights Watch that on September 21, Palestinian border officials at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt prevented her from traveling abroad because her father had applied for a judicial travel ban. She was heading to Turkey where she was awarded a scholarship to pursue a degree in media and communications.

In February 2021, the Supreme Judicial Council in Gaza issued a ruling that a male guardian may apply to a court to prevent an unmarried woman from traveling if it deems that the travel would cause “absolute harm,” an unspecified term. The decision also states that a woman can be prevented from traveling once a male guardian applies to the court, even before the judge issues a decision, as happened in the Al-Najjar case.

Al-Najjar said her father, who she does not live with, claimed in his application that she did not have his permission to travel, but did not explain how her departure could cause “absolute harm”. If anything, she said, the travel ban did her harm. She told Human Rights Watch that her father had not spoken to her since May.

At the initial court hearing on October 3 on her father’s travel ban request, al-Najjar said the judge told her she could study for her degree in Gaza, suggesting he expected her to stay there. Her father did not attend the session.

Palestinian rights organizations said that such discriminatory restrictions violate the Palestinian Basic Law. It also violates a woman’s right to leave her country without discrimination under international human rights law. Any travel restrictions must be individual, for a legitimate reason, and proportionate.

For more than 14 years, the crushing Israeli blockade, along with Egyptian restrictions on Rafah, has robbed the vast majority of Gaza’s more than two million residents of their right to freedom of movement. Hamas authorities should lift the travel ban on Afaf al-Najjar, and the Supreme Judicial Council should withdraw his notification, so that women in Gaza can travel without discriminatory restrictions.

“I will keep trying until the travel ban is lifted,” Al-Najjar told us. “I don’t want another woman to have the same experience.”

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