On June 30, Gisha’s public advocacy coordinator, Noa Galili, participated in a session of the Knesset’s special committee on dealing with the coronavirus. The focus of the session was the halt in coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel with respect to patients from Gaza in need of life-saving medical treatment which is only available outside the Strip, in the West Bank and Israel. The session was requested by Member of Knesset Sundus Saleh from the Joint List. It centered on the need for a coordination mechanism to allow Gaza residents to apply for permits directly from the military unit in charge of implementing Israel’s civilian policy towards Gaza, the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

In May, the Palestinian Authority (PA) announced it was halting coordination with Israel in response to Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank. Requests and information received by Gisha and other human rights organizations in Israel and Gaza indicate that patients in Gaza are unable to access medical treatment given there is no way for them to submit applications for travel permits to the Israeli authorities that control travel through Erez Crossing. Many of the patients, including minors, suffer from life-threatening conditions.

Last month, Gisha and four other Israeli human rights organizations sent an urgent letter to Israel’s defense minister, the attorney general, and COGAT, demanding they urgently publish clear information about an alternative procedure for submission of permit applications and highlighting Israel’s responsibility to ensure travel through Erez even in the absence of coordination with the PA. Ran Goldstein, the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, reminded members of the Knesset committee that the Palestinian health care system is one, integrated system. “Gaza hospitals are not equipped to provide certain treatments,” he said. “A person who lives in Gaza should have access to treatment in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.”

At the discussion, Galili emphasized that the extent of Israel’s control over many aspects of life in Gaza comes with responsibilities, enshrined in both international and Israeli law. The halt in coordination by the PA does not detract from Israel’s duty to ensure that travel by patients and other individuals through the crossing continue. Israel must urgently devise and publish an alternative procedure for processing of applications made by Gaza residents.

Speaking about patients’ access to treatment, Galili told the committee that “in a number of cases brought to our attention, the Gaza CLA [the Israeli military unit under COGAT that processes permit applications] refused to admit applications from Gaza residents on the grounds that they had not been transferred by the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee [the PA-run channel for permit applications by Gaza residents]. I think we can agree that it is unreasonable that patients should pay with their health, perhaps even their lives, simply because of a bureaucratic failure and lack of a proper alternative for the coordination mechanism.” Galili underlined that Israel is currently refusing to process applications for anything other than urgent medical care.

During the discussion, the head of COGAT’s civilian coordination department, Major Inbal Maman, referred to a “hotline” COGAT had supposedly set up for Gaza residents, through which they may directly submit applications for urgent medical treatment. An online form (Hebrew) for submitting such applications had been posted to COGAT’s website that morning.

In her concluding remarks, Major Maman said that openly accepting permit applications directly from Palestinian residents was a “legal problem,” because “it means we’re circumventing the PA, that we’re not following the interim agreements. If we publish this thing, where does it put us vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority?”

Notably, the Knesset committee session was held the day before July 1, the date after which, according to the Israeli government’s coalition agreement, Prime Minister Netanyahu can advance annexation of areas in the West Bank for debate by the cabinet. Formal annexation would be a brazen breach of past agreements between Israel and the PA, as well as of international law.

Following the committee hearing, we noted that the application form was available on COGAT’s website in Hebrew and Arabic and that it explicitly notes that residents can apply directly, as Gisha and partners had been demanding. Gisha will continue to monitor how the online application mechanism is implemented in practice. We note that Israel must enable people in Gaza to submit permit applications for needs other than urgent medical treatment alone.

To watch the Knesset committee session see here (Hebrew).