Gisha demands COGAT discontinue practice of holding up Palestinian permit holders at Erez Crossing
In recent months, many Gaza Strip residents who seek to exit Gaza have been faced with a new, injurious practice, which sees them delayed at Erez Crossing, though their applications to exit have already been approved. Some of these residents are held up at the crossing for hours, for no apparent reason, and are ultimately allowed to exit. Others undergo security interviews when they arrive at the crossing, at the end of which they are either allowed to exit, or told their exit is not approved and they must return to Gaza, even though their application had been approved beforehand. Gisha has received reports from scores of residents who have faced this practice in recent months, which appears to be on the rise.
The significant infringement on Gaza residents’ fundamental rights to freedom of movement, family life, livelihoods, and medical care, coupled with lack of respect for their legitimate expectations based on the decision to issue them a permit, make the practice prohibited and unlawful. Residents whose exit is denied after their application was approved also suffer a great deal of distress, as well as personal, familial and financial damage, when a family visit, or a business trip is canceled due to the delay. Even those who are ultimately allowed to exit often miss whatever was the purpose of their exit, such as a consulate interview or a flight from Jordan, planned for a certain time. It is important to note that the policy governing permits to exit Gaza is extremely restrictive to begin with, making denial of exit after a permit has already been issued a double blow to Gaza’s residents.
Gisha has protested this conduct by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) officials at Erez Crossing in a letter to Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO) Commander, Col. Fares Atilla, sent on November 12, 2015 (Hebrew). Gisha noted in its letter that according to the rules governing the DCO’s work, once an exit permit is extended to a certain resident, various crossing officials, such as members of security agencies, have no authority to “revisit” the application, and hold up the passenger for further screening. The letter stated the practice was unlawful and that it must cease immediately, given COGAT’s obligation to treat people fairly, properly, reasonably and courteously.
The response of the Gaza DCO Public Liaison Officer arrived on November 30, 2015 (Hebrew), stating that the Gaza DCO only has authority to issue Gaza residents permits, and that it does not intervene in the actions of security agents working at the crossing itself, who have the power to question, interrogate, arrest, etc. The letter further stated that as far as the DCO was aware “security agents act within their capacity” and that if there are any complaints regarding the operations of a given authority, contact must be made with it, or the agencies in charge of it, directly.
Gisha’s view is that in this response, the Gaza DCO absolves itself of the general responsibility for issuing exit permits to Gaza residents, as well as its obligations as an administrative authority to ensure that the decision to issue permits will be implemented without changes or delays as a result of third-party interference. Gisha will continue to fight this practice, which has far reaching repercussions.