One Month Later: COGAT Continues to Boycott Human Rights Organizations

• The result: patients are denied critical medical care; dozens of people with urgent humanitarian needs remain unattended to.

• Denial of the basic right of the residents of Gaza to representation leaves a dangerous opening for exploiting their vulnerable humanitarian condition and denying their rights.

• The boycott directed solely against the human rights organizations raises suspicion of further attempts to restrict their activities.

Tue., October 13, 2009 –  One month into the boycott, the Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO) continues to refuse to communicate with Israeli human rights organizations acting to assist Palestinians who wish to exit and enter the Gaza Strip for various reasons of a humanitarian nature. In a letter sent today by Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, HaMoked Center for the Defence of the Individual, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel to Osnat Mendel, head of the High Court of Justice Department at the State Attorney’s Office, the groups argue that the decision by the head of the DCO to cut ties with the organizations severely violates the right of the residents of Gaza to be represented before the competent authorities in Israel who have the exclusive power to grant or deny their requests:

"Unfortunately, as of today, the head of the Gaza DCO has taken the position that he has no obligation to respect the right to representation, due process, and a fair hearing for residents who approach him. That position is the polar opposite of what the law requires," write the organizations.

Denying people with urgent humanitarian needs the basic right of representation poses a real risk of their vulnerable situation being exploited without them being able to exercise their rights. Such for example is the case of Ms. Samah Khtab, who came to the Erez Checkpoint with her children on October 11, 2009, after being told by the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee they had received an exit permit from the Gaza Strip for a short visit with her relatives in the West Bank. The military refused to provide details of its decision in her case to the Gisha representatives assisting her. After hours of waiting at the checkpoint, Ms. Khtab was surprised to learn that the Israeli authorities would only issue the permit on the condition that she promise never to return to her home and family in the Gaza Strip. This is not the first case the organizations have learned of in which the Israeli authorities exploited the absence of legal representation to impose illegal conditions on permit seekers who are not aware of their rights.

The continued boycott of the organizations, who last year handled 1,600 cases of Gaza residents seeking to travel, seriously undermines the urgent humanitarian needs of the residents of the Gaza Strip, including many cases of patients who need immediate access to medical care in Israel. For example, Ms. Amneh Mansour, 29, a married mother of six, suffers from aventricular septal defect and needs urgent surgery at an Israeli hospital. On October 11, 2009 the Palestinian Civilian Committee told Ms. Mansour that the Israeli authorities had rejected her application. Since the Gaza DCO continues to refuse to receive applications from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Ms. Mansour is in Gaza with no medical treatment and no possibility of representation of her case.

The reasons for the new decision, which is directed solely at human rights organizations, are not clear at all, and raise many questions, especially considering the comments of a senior security official to the media that "recently the Israeli organizations have been working more intensively than ever, and that is unacceptable."