Israel's restrictions on Palestinian movement between Gaza and the West Bank is separating relatives and making family life impossible for tens of thousands of people, an Israeli human rights report said Monday.
Jointly published by rights watchdogs B'Tselem and HaMoked, the 42-page report documents the impact of Israel's policy of tightly restricting Palestinian movement into and out of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
"Israel's declared policy of isolating the Gaza Strip severely violates the right to family life of tens of thousands of Palestinians living in split families, divided between Gaza and Israel, or between Gaza and the West Bank," it said.
Current Israeli policy bars Gazans from travelling to the West Bank except in extremely rare circumstances. And although West Bank residents are permitted to go to Gaza, they have to commit to stay there, the report said.
"Israel prohibits all passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, except in very few exceptional humanitarian cases of first-degree relatives involving serious illness, death or a wedding," it said.
Even then, not all requests are accepted, or are granted too late.
After the 1967 Six Day War when Israel seized Gaza and the West Bank, it allowed Palestinians relative freedom of movement between the two territories, but during the first uprising (1987-1993), restrictions were stepped up, ostensibly for security reasons.
The policy changed in 2006 when Israel first imposed a blockade on Gaza after militants there seized an Israeli soldier, and was tightened again a year later after Hamas forcibly took control.
Women were particularly affected, the report said, noting that marriage meant a woman was expected to leave her family and move into her husband's home.
"Israel's policy ... is especially detrimental to women ... as the restrictions on their freedom of movement effectively sever them from their families of origin," the organisations said.
The report urged the Israeli government to "respect the rights of all Palestinian residents to family life and freedom of movement."
In response, Israel's justice ministry acknowledged the "hardship" the policy was causing, but said it was necessary for security reasons.
The Gaza Strip is "a hostile territory controlled by a murderous terrorist organisation (Hamas) that routinely operates against a civilian population and whose self-declared goal is the annihilation of the State of Israel," it said.
"Permitting passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would entail a substantial security risk," the ministry said, insisting the policy was "a regretful side effect" of the "strategy of terrorism and violence" pursued by Palestinian militants.