State refuses to provide information about delays and questioning of people transiting through Erez Crossing
Responses received on April 11 and 21, 2016.
In recent months, Gisha has received many reports indicating that state authorities at Erez Crossing have begun systematically delaying and questioning residents of the Gaza Strip (Palestinian residents and Israeli citizens alike) who wish to pass through the crossing. This practice has included delaying residents who have received a permit to exit or enter the Gaza Strip for a “security interview”, including individuals with merchant permits and medical patients. In some cases, residents are ultimately allowed to exit through the crossing, though only after a long wait that may cause them to miss the event they received a permit to exit for in the first place. In other cases, permits are revoked after the interviews, and residents are told to return to Gaza. There are also cases in which exit is either significantly delayed or entirely denied without any explanation and in the absence of any preliminary screening or “security interview” at the crossing itself.
Given the many complaints we have received, and in order to gain a better understanding of this practice, its prevalence and who it affects, on March 22, 2016, Gisha filed a Freedom of Information application on this issue both to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) (Hebrew), which is responsible for issuing permits to cross Erez, and the Ministry of Defense (Hebrew), which runs the crossing through the Land Crossings Authority.
The authorities were asked, inter alia, to indicate how many residents had been detained at Erez Crossing for security interrogations, questioning or interviews after being granted a permit over the course of 2015-2016, and what the results of these interviews were: How many residents ultimately exited Gaza; how many were forced to return to Gaza after their permits were revoked, and how many were transferred for further interrogation or arrest in Israel?
Both authorities refused to provide the information and denied any responsibility for the practice. The head of the Public Liaison Department at the Ministry of Defense responded on April 11, 2016 (Hebrew) that “the Ministry of Defense does not handle this issue”, and referred Gisha to COGAT. COGAT’s response was signed by its Freedom of Information and public liaison officer on April 21, 2016 (Hebrew). It stated that the Gaza DCO was not responsible for security interrogations at Erez Crossing.
In response to our request for information about permits that were revoked after their holders arrived at the crossing, COGAT refused to provide information because “according to the position of security officials, divulging [the information] presents a threat to national security”. The security justification cited as the reason for the refusal to provide the information is not only unsubstantiated but also irrelevant seeing as the application did not relate to the security grounds behind any specific decision to revoke a permit, but to a general practice that is under the purview of the Gaza DCO and is implemented by it on a near daily basis. Moreover, this practice is no secret, and pursued completely in the open as Gaza residents whose permits are revoked receive written confirmation of this (Hebrew).