Since January 2022, Israel’s Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA), the authority in charge of processing permit applications filed by Palestinians in Gaza, has refused to answer inquiries by human rights organizations and lawyers on behalf of Gaza residents. In the past six months, inquiries by legal representatives of permit applicants from Gaza receive an automated response from the CLA, which states that all inquiries on the status of permit applications must be referred to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee (PCAC), a Palestinian Authority-run body in Gaza that channels permit applications by Gaza residents to the Israeli authorities and relays Israel’s decisions to applicants. This is despite the fact that the PCAC serves solely as a channel for applications and does not represent the permit applicants themselves. As a result, Palestinians in Gaza are facing even longer delays than before in receiving responses to their permit applications, even in patently humanitarian cases, at great risk to lives and in violation of fundamental rights.
Every year, the CLA denies thousands of permit applications submitted by Palestinians in Gaza, or fails to respond to them on time, rendering them denied in practice. It is often only following legal interventions by human rights organizations and private lawyers that residents of the Strip receive permits and can realize their fundamental right to travel. Until January 2022, inasmuch as the initial permit application was filed via the PCAC, which it usually was, the Gaza CLA engaged with human rights organizations and private lawyers and responded to inquiries on behalf of Gaza residents, which were usually made in the case of delays in response or denials.
In February, human rights organizations Gisha, Al Mezan, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, and HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, submitted an urgent pre-petition letter to Israel’s Ministry of Justice, demanding that the CLA rescind its refusal to process applications filed by Gaza residents’ legal representatives. In the letter, the organizations emphasized that the CLA’s refusal to respond to human rights organizations representing Gaza residents has effectively blocked people from accessing urgent and life-saving medical treatment that is unavailable in Gaza, as well as other basic, humanitarian needs. The organizations also cautioned that the CLA’s conduct means that it is, in effect, disavowing its legal obligations, in severe violation of Gaza residents’ rights, including the right to due process. Following the pre-petition letter, the Israeli authorities claimed that they would be drafting a response to the organizations’ arguments, and that until such a response was ready, they would engage with Gaza residents’ legal representatives in cases requiring urgent medical treatment. Despite this assurance, inordinate delays by the CLA have been documented even in patently humanitarian and urgent medical cases. On March 25, 2022, 19-month-old Fatma Jalal al-Masri died in Gaza after Israel prevented her access to a hospital outside the Strip, where she was due to receive treatment for a ventricular septal defect.
The Israeli authorities only responded to the organizations in mid-April, stating that it would engage legal representatives of Gaza residents only in a small and limited number of cases, including patients in urgent need of life-saving treatment, but not in all cases. This position stands in violation of the CLA’s legal obligation, as an administrative authority, to process all applications it receives and respond to them. As of today, the CLA continues to ignore multiple inquiries filed by organizations and lawyers on behalf of Gaza residents, referring them to the PCAC using the automated response, even in cases that fall clearly within the CLA’s own definition of urgent medical and humanitarian cases on which it agrees to engage.
Israel routinely violates the fundamental rights of Palestinians in Gaza, half of whom are children, in direct contravention of its obligation, as an occupying power, to protect them. The CLA’s recent change of policy prevents organizations and lawyers from assisting Gaza residents, leaving them more exposed than ever to the bureaucratic violence inherent in Israel’s permit regime. Combined with its inordinate delays in responding to permit applications, the CLA’s refusal to engage with legal representatives of Gaza residents greatly exacerbates the harm to Gaza residents and puts lives at risk. It must be reversed immediately.