Gisha to Defense Minister and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories: Decision to deny Israeli citizens entry to Gaza harms thousands and must be revoked immediately

Tuesday, August 11, 2015: In a letter sent to Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, Gisha demands the reversal of the decision to deny Israeli citizens and residents entry into Gaza, where their families are and where they live and work. Gisha became aware of the decision only after reading a news item based on a press statement released by COGAT. The following are the main groups impacted by the decision:

1.         Israeli citizens and residents seeking entry into Gaza to visit relatives in unmistakably humanitarian circumstances:

Israelis who have first-degree relatives in the Gaza Strip may submit an application to enter the Strip to visit them. According to the criteria, humanitarian circumstances include visiting relatives who are seriously ill, or attending a first-degree relative’s wedding or funeral. According to a survey conducted by Gisha, tens of thousands of people in Gaza have relatives in Israel.

2.         Israeli citizens and residents who are part of a “divided family”, i.e. either married to Palestinian residents (mostly women), or the children of Israeli citizens:

Israel allows Israeli citizens and residents who are married to Gaza residents to exercise their right to family life only in the Gaza Strip. Among those impacted by the new entry ban are parents and children who are currently visiting Israel and cannot return to their homes in Gaza, where the school year is about to begin. At the same time, Israeli citizens living in the Gaza Strip are refraining from exercising their vested right to enter Israel for family visits, for fear they will not be able to return home.

3.         Israeli citizens and residents who work for international aid agencies

Hundreds of Israeli citizens and residents enter Gaza regularly as part of their work. Blocking this movement will impede humanitarian activities in Gaza and post-Operation Protective Edge reconstruction efforts. In other words, the ban will have a harmful effect on Gaza’s civilian population.

The statement issued by COGAT is both perplexing and misleading. It reads: “Only individual cases will be approved for humanitarian reasons and following security screening”. Yet, these conditions already apply to Israeli citizens and residents seeking permits to enter Gaza.

The choice to disseminate information that affects the lives of tens of thousands of people through a press release is outrageous. We were surprised to read that the reason for the new decision is connected to the two Israelis allegedly being held in Gaza, Avera Mengistu and the unnamed member of the Bedouin community, as well as “the current security situation in the Gaza Strip”. In the very same press release, COGAT cites that 762 Israeli citizens and residents received permits to enter the Gaza Strip in the first half of 2015, that is, after the disappearance of the two Israeli citizens. Israel has a right and a duty to ensure the security of all its citizens, but this new decision shows it has opted for punishment instead, collective punishment that separates individuals from their families, homes and places of work. Gisha calls for the immediate revocation of the new decision.

 * The letter to the Minister of Defense and COGAT is attached, and can be found here. Annexes can be found in Hebrew in the original letter.