Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Cuts Contact with Human Rights Organizations: Refuses to Handle Applications on Behalf of Gaza Residents

Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Cuts Contact with Human Rights Organizations: Refuses to Handle Applications on Behalf of Gaza Residents

· As of this week: Army officials will refuse to respond to applications from Israeli human rights organizations on behalf of Gaza residents, even in emergency humanitarian cases.

· New, unilateral procedures negate Palestinians’ right to representation in proceedings challenging military decisions.

· Gaza DCO boasts that it exists “for humanitarian reasons" and then closes the single option for representation open to those with humanitarian needs.

· Decision represents another step in a systematic attempt to restrict the activities of human rights organizations in Israel.

Thu., September 17, 2009: A coalition of human rights groups led by Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, and Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement today sent a letter to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, in response to a letter from the head of the Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO) notifying them of an immediate refusal to respond to their applications regarding Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip.

The head of the DCO informed the Israeli organizations that from now on, IDF officials will no longer provide replies and updates regarding their clients, and the organizations must contact a foreign, non-Israeli body – the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee – with the request that it forward their application to the IDF.
The organizations expressed concern that this refusal will seriously impede the work of Israeli human rights organizations – and that Gaza residents with urgent humanitarian needs will pay the price.

Human rights organizations, which assist thousands of Palestinians seeking to exit or enter the Gaza Strip for various reasons, serve in many cases as the only option of representation available to residents.Since a Palestinian resident of the Gaza Strip cannot approach the Israeli authorities directly, and since the Gaza DCO is the only body authorized to grant applications, the sole avenue open to such residents hoping to receive a response or to expedite the handling of their applications is via human rights organizations:“Your refusal to respond to the appeals of human rights organizations and Israeli attorneys constitutes a grave humanitarian blow to the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip and their right to representation – those Palestinian residents towards whom your foremost duty is to take care of their welfare, relief and humanitarian needs,” the organizations wrote.

The organizations stress that in many cases their activities have saved lives and resolved problems and that the obstruction of their activities is likely to have very grave implications.That is raised, for example, in the case of Mu’tasem Billah Abu-Mastfa, a nine-month-old baby suffering from severe congenital heart defects:He has four holes in his heart, which is located on the right side of his chest.The baby is being treated on an ongoing basis at the El-Nasser Hospital in Gaza but due to a deterioration of his condition, his doctors referred him for treatment at Sheba Hospital at Tel Hashomer, Israel, where he was expected on September 13, 2009. On August 28, 2009, his family submitted an application to the Israeli-run Gaza DCO, via the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee, to coordinate his exit from Gaza, but they have yet to receive a reply from the Gaza DCO, and therefore the baby has been prevented from traveling to receive medical treatment.Due to the IDF’s new policy of refusing to respond to applications made by human rights organizations, there is no way of finding out the reason for the delay or to expedite the handling of this urgent application.This is only one example of many.
The Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee has no power to issue permits or to allow passage, since the IDF controls Erez Crossing.

The organizations expressed surprise at the notice of refusal in light of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories’ declarations that part of the DCO’s function is to respond to applications from Israeli human rights organizations. Recently the head of the DCO, Col. Moshe Levi, made contact with one of the organizations to propose a meeting in order to improve its work with the DCO and stated that the DCO exists “for the humanitarian niche,” i.e. for the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip who have been subject to the closure for more than two years.Now, just two months later, Col. Levi sent this letter to notify the human rights organizations of the immediate severance of contacts.

The organizations signing the letter are: Gisha, HaMoked, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Adalah, Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights, Yesh Din.