Military changes procedure in order to justify its refusal to allow a British student to enter the Gaza Strip
February 25, 2014. “A visit to Gaza could have provided me with important material for my research”, Craig Jones, a British national and PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia in Canada, told Gisha. “Unfortunately, I was denied the right to go there by representatives of a country that insists that it does not control Gaza”, he added.
Mr. Jones was sent to Gaza to conduct academic field research, but when he tried to enquire how to apply to enter the Strip, military officials told him that his application was denied even before it had been submitted. Mr. Jones contacted Gisha and we sent the authorities a letter on his behalf, asking to arrange for his entry into the Gaza Strip according to the procedure for the entry of foreigners into the Gaza Strip via the Erez Crossing. The procedure allows non-diplomat foreign nationals under three categories to enter the Gaza Strip:
- Representatives of international organizations that appear on the military’s list of “recognized” organizations.
- Representatives of international organizations that do not appear on the military’s list of “recognized” organizations.
- Tourists wishing to visit the Strip.
Gisha’s letter suggested two alternatives for approving Mr. Jones’ application: one as a tourist, and the other as a representative of an “unrecognized” international organization. The District Coordination Office (DCO) decided to reject the application on the basis that the organization that sent Mr. Jones “is not recognized by the Israeli Ministry of Welfare “. Yet Mr. Jones’ application was not submitted under the category for recognized organizations, and further, there currently exists no official process for registering international organizations as “recognized”, either under the procedures of the military or under those of the ministry of welfare.
We had no choice but to contact the military authorities again, but again the application was denied on the same grounds. However, there was now a key difference in the army’s response: this time, the authorities referred Mr. Jones to the Canadian consulate for further assistance, although, as noted, Mr. Jones is a British citizen.
Following the military’s refusal to allow Mr. Jones to enter Gaza under the relevant procedure, Gisha submitted a pre-petition to the State Attorney’s Office, asking it to intervene. Only then, in the military’s response to the State Attorney’s inquiry, was a relevant, if inadequate, rationale provided for the refusal. The response stated that according to the policy in effect, travel to the Gaza Strip is approved only in exceptional humanitarian cases, and the procedure regulating the entry of foreign nationals into Gaza is considered in light of this policy. “As an aside”, the representative of the MAG Corps wrote, “we note that the relevant authorities have decided to correct and clarify the abovementioned procedure on the entry of foreign nationals into the Gaza Strip, in order to dispel any doubt and avoid ambiguity with respect to the primacy of the policy over the procedure”.
In other words, the military refused to act in accordance with its own procedure, and furthermore went to the trouble of retroactively amending it to fit a stricter policy. Recently, an increasing number of cases we have received indicate that this is merely a symptom of a broader trend, and that the military has decided to make travel into and out of Gaza more difficult than it already was.