Years after its Gaza Strip pullout, Israel still controls the territory's population registry, as well as that of the West Bank, giving it a veto on which Palestinians can hold travel documents, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday."Israel's control over the population registry has significantly reduced the registered Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, probably by hundreds of thousands of people," the New York-based HRW said in a 90-page report.
It said that only residents acknowledged by Israel are able to acquire a Palestinian ID card, which is essential for internal travel though Israeli roadblocks and is also a prerequisite for obtaining a Palestinian passport.
"The way Israel's military has exercised its control over the Palestinian population registry... has separated families, caused people to lose jobs and educational opportunities, barred people from entering the Palestinian territories, and trapped others inside them, HRW said.
"A survey conducted in 2005, on behalf of the Israeli rights group B'tselem, estimated that more than 640 000 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza had a parent, sibling, child, or spouse who was unregistered," it added in the report, entitled Forget about him, he's not here.
"From 2000 onward, for instance, Israel denied unregistered Palestinians entry to Gaza, which it completely controlled until 2005 and which remained largely sealed off even after Hamas took over the territory in 2007," HRW said.
"Unregistered Palestinians cannot obtain ID cards or passports required to travel abroad; at least 12 000 are estimated to be in Gaza," it added.
"Human Rights Watch identified numerous cases where family members in the West Bank have been separated for years from their close relatives in Gaza."
Israeli officials had no immediate comment on the report.
The Jewish state withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in September 2005 after a 38-year-occupation, but still maintains tight controls over its land border with the strip and has imposed a total lockdown of air and sea links.
HRW said that Egypt, which also has a land border with Gaza, limits passage of Palestinians to those with Israel-approved IDs, even if they hold foreign passports.