COGAT: Travel of Palestinian citizens of Israel to Gaza to be further reduced

Erez Crossing. Around 120,000 Gaza residents have relatives in Israel. Photo by Nuriya Oswald.

Erez Crossing. Around 120,000 Gaza residents have relatives in Israel. Photo by Nuriya Oswald.

July 26, 2015. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai put out a press release on Thursday evening, stating that he has “recommended reducing the number of Arab citizens of Israel entering Gaza”. The reason, as stated in the release, was “fear for their lives, given the security situation in the Gaza Strip”. COGAT claimed the decision was made in the context of the fact that two Israeli citizens are allegedly being held in Gaza.

The press statement does not give any indication of what exactly may change. The criteria allowing Israeli citizens to visit family members in Gaza are already extremely narrow. Permits are given only to those wishing to visit Gaza for the funeral, wedding or terminal illness of a first-degree relative, and to couples who wish to reunite. The line that COGAT draws between his current decision and the Israelis being held in Gaza is perplexing, given that the two had been missing for months, during which time, hundreds of Israeli citizens were permitted to enter the Gaza Strip and returned home safely.

It is not just the issue of transparency that’s a problem (i.e. what’s behind Maj. Gen. Mordechai’s decision and what it means), it is also how it was shared with the public. A decision that affects so many civilians – after all, a survey commissioned by Gisha showed that about 120,000 people in the Gaza Strip have relatives in Israel – should be brought to the public’s attention through an official, publically accessible channel, rather than as a fleeting news item. People with family ties to Gaza need to know how and if they can see their relatives.

COGAT hasn’t updated its website for more than a month now due to “technical difficulties”. Its personnel have not come up with alternative ways of informing the public about the unit’s decisions and have resorted to press releases only. Hence, many documents that require official publication have not been made available to the public, including the following: COGAT’s annual report for 2014, the changes to the criteria and quotas for travel (the “closure permissions status” document), the Civil Administration protocols and procedures which COGAT was to publish in response to a petition filed by Gisha, and more.