On October 12, Gisha and our colleagues at Adalah, Physicians for Human Rights Israel, HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, sent an urgent letter to the Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara, and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Ghassan Alyan with regards to workers from Gaza who are being involuntarily held in Israeli detention facilities. The organizations demanded the workers be released and permitted to cross into the West Bank, and for lawyers to be allowed to enter the facilities to assess their conditions. We have also requested a list of all workers from Gaza held in Israeli custody.

When the heinous attack by Hamas and other armed militants in the south of Israel began on October 7, thousands of Palestinian workers from Gaza with Israeli work permits were present in Israel. Prior to the attack, there were roughly 18,500 Palestinian residents of Gaza who held permits enabling them to access manual labor jobs in Israel, mainly in agriculture and construction. It is not clear how many of these permit-holders were in Israel that Saturday.

Following the massacre in Israel, there is grave concern for the lives and safety of the workers from Gaza stranded in Israel. Gisha received several testimonies about workers who were subjected to threats and physical violence from Israeli civilians, police officers, and soldiers. Unable to return to their homes in Gaza given the hostilities surrounding Gaza’s crossings with Israel, and Israel’s subsequent decision to close the crossings hermetically, numerous workers from Gaza made their way to the West Bank, hoping to find shelter with local residents. A number of Gaza workers who crossed into the West Bank through Israeli-controlled checkpoints reported they were held at the checkpoints for many hours, their cell phones and cash were taken away, and they were subjected to violent and humiliating “questioning” and harassment by soldiers.

On October 11, Gaza workers discovered that the Israeli work permits lawfully in their possession had been revoked, and that there was no record of their permits on COGAT’s Al-Munasiq app, where Palestinians can check on the status of their permit applications to Israeli authorities. COGAT later confirmed to Gisha that it had revoked all work permits issued to Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and that the permits “will not be reinstated.”

The mass revocation of people’s permits instantaneously turned Gaza residents who had been lawfully present in Israel into “illegal aliens,” from Israel’s perspective. Soon after the permits were deleted from COGAT’s app, the organizations learned that the Israeli authorities were detaining Palestinians from Gaza. Some were detained inside Israel, some at checkpoints en route into the West Bank, and others still in areas of the West Bank that are under the Palestinian Authority’s civilian and security control.

The detained workers are being held against their will in Israeli detention centers. We are so far aware of two facilities being used to hold them, Anatot and Ofer, Israeli military camps in the West Bank. The workers in detention are being deprived their basic rights, including the right to legal representation. The Israeli authorities also refuse to provide basic information about who they have detained. Our inquiries to the Israeli authorities with the names of Gaza residents who have gone missing remain unanswered. Family members of workers who were in Israel on October 7 have no way of knowing how they are, whether they are being held in Israeli detention facilities and if so, where. According to reports (Arabic) in the Palestinian media, the Israeli army continues to carry out raids in the West Bank with the purpose of locating laborers from Gaza, who they then detain and take into custody.

On October 17, the Israeli media reported (Hebrew) that 4,000 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip were being interrogated in Israeli holding facilities and that security officials had said there was “no intention of sending them back to Gaza” at this point.

In the organizations’ letter to Israeli authorities, we emphasized that revoking the permits constitutes a prohibited act of vengeance against protected persons. “This act, deliberately and in bad faith, deprives the laborers of the proof they possessed with regard to the reason for their lawful presence in Israel. […] It jeopardizes the laborers’ legal status, and, more seriously still, increases the risk to their lives and bodily integrity.”

The letter further states: “Arrests cannot be made secretly and in contradiction of the law. These arrests were made without legal authority, without cause for arrest and without any orders whatsoever having been issued in the matter. The laborers are being held in custody without record, for an unknown period of time, and without guarantees of their most fundamental rights […] All the residents who received a work permit were diligently screened by Israel’s security authorities for the purpose of ruling out any possibility that they are involved in [prohibited] organizations or pose a threat to Israel. As far as we are aware, no allegations have been made against the detainees, and they were arrested simply because they are residents of the Gaza Strip and for no other reason.”