Pilgrims from the Gaza Strip have been subjected to severe suffering on their way to and from Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
In mid-December 2007, their exit from Gaza was restricted by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF).
This act threatened to deprive them of their right to practice the annual Hajj (pilgrimage) rites.
Israel refuses to open the Rafah crossing, Gaza's only border crossing with Egypt, and imposes restrictions on the movement of Gazans.
Since 4 December 2007, approximately 2,700 pilgrim's left Gaza through the Rafah crossing after an agreement was reached between Egyptian authorities and the deposed government in the Gaza Strip.
In addition, about 700 pilgrims were allowed to travel through the Erez crossing via Israel, and then through Jordan, on 12 December 2007.
Pilgrims arrived at Mecca only a short time before the Hajj rites started.
IOF refused to allow one-hundred fifty other pilgrims to travel via Erez.
The ability for pilgrims to travel has spread a positive feeling in Gaza.
After the Hajj rites in Saudi Arabia, pilgrims started out their journey back to Gaza through Egypt and Jordan.
However, Israel has continued to restrict their movement.
After some 3,000 pilgrims entered Egypt, Israel has insisted that they are not allowed to return through the Rafah crossing.
Rafah is the same point they were granted access for leave.
Additionally, IOF opened fire towards a group of pilgrims who were returning to Gaza through Jordan at the entrance of Erez crossing.
According to Al Mezan's field investigations, at approximately 9.
40pm IOF opened fire at Palestinian pilgrims returning home through Erez crossing.
The firing occurred as pilgrims were collecting their baggage after they were searched and questioned.
As a result, a 33-year-old woman, Khaldiya Al Tilbani, was killed.
Her 40-year-old husband, Freih Al Tilbani, was injured from a bullet to his neck.
In the meantime, the pilgrims who traveled through Egypt via the Rafah crossing have been stranded in Egypt since 29 December 2007.
They were kept waiting at the Red Sea for one day before they were allowed to enter the Egyptian port of Nuweiba.
Pilgrims demanded that they enter the same way they departed.
They refused to sign an agreement that would allow them to return through an Israeli crossing, subsequently delaying their crossing.
IOF's travel restrictions imposed on the Palestinian pilgrims constitute a violation of their right to exercise their religion freely.
This is not the first time IOF has restricted the travel and return of Gazan pilgrims.
Since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000, hundreds of pilgrims were unjustifiably prevented from travelling for the Hajj.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemns IOF's actions of targeting the returning pilgrims, and the killing of one and injuring of others.
It also condemns the restriction of pilgrims attempting to return via the Rafah crossing.
These conducts represent unjustified violations of human rights, especially the right to life, freedom of movement and exercise of one's religion, and the freedom from cruel and inhumane treatment.
Al Mezan further emphasizes that these violations represent a flagrant disregard of Israel's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1976, which establish the right to freedom of movement (Article 12), and the right of every person to practice his/her own religion (Article 18).
The IOF engender a pattern of violations of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War of 1949.
Al Mezan, therefore, calls upon the international community to urgently intervene to bring to an end to IOF's violations of human rights and IHL in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and to exert pressure on Israel to allow a safe and smooth passage of Palestinian pilgrims to Gaza.