Petition filed on behalf of B’Tselem’s Gaza-based field researchers for entry into Israel for professional training, AP 16957-08-13, B’Tselem v. Minister of Defense
B'Tselem's two Gaza field researchers document and report on human rights violations in the Gaza Strip. In their many years of work with the organization, they have provided the military with information that assisted in investigating aberrant shooting incidents. The importance of their reports received acknowledgment both in a report put out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and by the former Military Advocate General (Hebrew).
Unlike B'Tselem’s West Bank-based field researchers, who are able to take part in routine professional training at the organization's offices in Jerusalem, the Gaza researchers have never received such training. On July 29, 2013, Gisha wrote a letter to the Gaza DCO on behalf of B'Tselem, asking for clearance for the two field researchers to enter Israel for a training seminar that would take place over a number of days. On August 12, 2013, as the date of the seminar was approaching and no response had been received from the DCO (in breach of the Response Procedure (Hebrew), according to which applicants must receive a response at least five days before the requested date of departure, an urgent petition was filed with the Beer Sheva District Court sitting as the Court for Administrative Affairs, asking it to compel the respondents to respond to and approve the application. The DCO's response was received on the same day – the application was denied for failing to meet the criteria for travel between the Gaza Strip and the State of Israel.
In a hearing held before Judge Nechama Nezer on August 15, 2013, counsel for the petitioners argued that considering the fact that official documents of Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit (Hebrew) state that hundreds of Palestinian employees of international organizations travel from Gaza to Israel, all the more reason to allow two employees of an Israeli human rights organization to travel. To bolster this argument and emphasize the arbitrary nature of the decision to deny the researchers passage, the court was presented with the entry permits and approval letters provided in response to the applications made for Gisha's field coordinator, whose entry into Israel for professional training has been approved by the DCO yearly since 2009.
In her decision, the judge rejected the respondents' claim that the permits given to Gisha's staff member had been given beyond the requirement of the law: "I have found no difference in the phrasing of the response and the general, and in my view vague, grounds provided thereto other than the fact that Gisha's employee repeatedly received a permit while the petitioners, B'Tselem's employees, received a negative response, denying their right". The judge also rejected the respondents' official position that travel from Gaza to Israel is made possible, in practice, only in exceptional humanitarian cases: "In my view, it is unreasonable that the same administrative authority that claims, on one hand, that entry into Israel from the Gaza Strip will be allowed only on humanitarian grounds, approves applications that do not amount to humanitarian applications or necessities by any account". Accordingly, the judge ordered the respondents to submit their position on reviewing applications that do not meet the criteria for travel between the Gaza Strip and Israel within seven days.
To read the petition (Hebrew)
To read the transcripts of the hearing and the judge's decision (Hebrew)