Yerushalayim (Ilana Messika/TPS) – The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) denied accusations by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that Israel systematically prevents human-rights activists from entering or leaving the Gaza Strip.
In a 47-page report published Monday, HRW said its activists had been systematically blocked from entering the Gaza Strip for more than 20 years, effectively limiting their ability to investigate, discover, and act against human rights and humanitarian law violations. COGAT did not dispute the numbers, but said that border policies with Gaza are governed only by security considerations.
“Everyday COGAT coordinates more than 1,000 crossings for commercial and business purposes, medical treatment, academic studies abroad, participation in conferences, and more,” a COGAT official told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). Accordingly, more than 310,139 crossings were registered during 2016 at the Erez crossing in both directions.
“Every crossing request goes through a thorough inspection by the IDF District and Coordination Liaison and security authorities. COGAT regularly coordinates the passage of many human rights organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and Doctors of the World, among others,” argued the COGAT official.
“We emphasize that the Gaza Strip is controlled by the Hamas terrorist organization, which openly acts to harm the security of the State of Israel, so we operate under constant tension between the desire to help the civilian population in Gaza and our duty to protect the citizens of Israel,” the official continued.
“Hamas’ operatives take advantage of the resident’s passage permits for their military purposes, thereby harming residents in true need of assistance,” the official contended. “For example, Hamas regularly stashes funds inside ambulances transporting Gazan residents in need of medical treatment in Israel in order to transfer the funds to extremist supporters in Yehudah and Shomron.”
Most recently, Muhammad Murtaja, a Gazan humanitarian worker for the Turkish medical organization TIKA, was exposed falsifying lists of needy Gazans, transferring aid packages, and diverting millions of shekels to Hamas.
According to the HRW report, “Unwilling or Unable: Israeli Restrictions on Travel to and from Gaza for Human Rights Workers,” the restrictions on human rights workers have severely impaired the validity of Israeli claims to the ICC that the Jewish State is properly handling its own criminal investigations in Gaza.
The examination of the cases of the “Palestinian situation” in the ICC Prosecutor’s Office are currently at the stage of ongoing preliminary investigation. The jurisdiction of the court, however, is contingent on two separate things. First, it needs to establish that the crimes committed are “sufficiently grave” to merit that the ICC impose its jurisdiction, and second, the Court needs to prove that the country being investigated is “unwilling or unable” to deal with its own violations (also called the “complementary jurisdiction” concept).
The criteria on which the security establishment bases its decisions to permit crossings are determined by the political echelon. According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s report on Operation Protective Edge in 2014, non-governmental organizations are recurring sources of many of the allegations of misconduct and complaints filed to the IDF Judge Advocate General. Although Israeli criminal investigators do not enter Gaza, they rely on human rights organizations to alert them of potential violations, to provide documentary and forensic evidence, and to facilitate the testimony of witnesses.
“If Israel wants the ICC prosecutor to take seriously its argument that its criminal investigations are adequate, a good first step would be to allow human rights researchers to bring relevant information to light,” said Sari Bashi, director of Israel and Palestine advocacy at HRW. “Impeding the work of human rights groups raises questions not just about the willingness of Israel’s military authorities to conduct genuine investigations, but also their ability to do so.”