Israel bars Amnesty, Human Rights Watch workers from Gaza

Human rights organizations prevented from conducting investigations into Israel-Hamas fighting.

Erez Crossing
The Erez Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel. / Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
By Amira Hass
Published 15:32 18.08.14

Israel has been refusing to allow employees of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to enter the Gaza Strip in order to conduct their own independent investigations into the fighting, using various bureaucratic excuses.

Both human rights organizations have been trying to obtain permission from the Civil Administration to enter Gaza since July 7. Two different reasons have been cited for the refusals: The first is that the Erez border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip is closed and no entry permits are being granted until further notice; the second is neither group is registered with the Social Affairs Ministry as a humanitarian aid organization.

In fact, Erez was open throughout most of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, which began on July 8. Among others, journalists, United Nations employees and Palestinians needing medical care or returning from abroad (with special permits), were allowed to pass through.

The spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories told Haaretz yesterday that it was suggested to both groups that they submit a special request with the COGAT ombudsman, but that no such request had as yet been received. Human Rights Watch said it had only received the suggestion late last week. Amnesty said it had not heard of the suggestion at all.

Both organizations had hoped to have researchers in the Strip during the fighting, accompanied by weapons and munitions experts with military backgrounds: Figures in the NGOs said there are no Palestinians in Gaza with the requisite professional military knowledge to independently evaluate claims being made by both the Palestinians and Israelis. While testimonies can be taken and cross-checked after the fact, physical evidence such as shell impact craters or traces from munitions is usually removed quickly.

Both groups have in the past published reports critical of Hamas. Following Operation Cast Lead (2009) and Operation Pillar of Defense (2012) they documented incidents that raised allegations of war crimes by Israel. It should be noted that both groups conduct investigations in the West Bank and in Israel proper without any interference from the authorities.

Human Right Watch investigators have been barred from entering Gaza via the Erez crossing since 2006, while Amnesty’s people have been barred since June 2012. Until the Morsi government in Egypt was brought down, they would enter Gaza from Egyptian territory through the Rafah crossing. On December 6, 2012, the international department of the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (which is part of the Civil Administration) told Amnesty that it would no longer process its requests to enter the Strip because it only handles requests from groups registered as aid groups with either the Israel Foreign Ministry or the Social Affairs Ministry. The notice acknowledged that this was a change in policy and said the change had come “from a higher authority.”

In subsequent discussions that Amnesty held with the Israeli authorities, it emerged that only UN agencies are registered with the Foreign Ministry. Yonatan Gher, Amnesty’s executive director in Israel, told Haaretz that the Foreign Ministry had specifically told his group that it couldn’t register with the ministry. As for the Social Affairs Ministry, the group explained that it doesn’t fall under the category of aid or humanitarian organizations that work regularly in the territories, and which register with that ministry to get work permits. Gher said that while he had gotten verbal promises from the Civil Administration that it would continue to accept Amnesty’s entrance requests, in recent weeks the only thing that had been raised is registering with the Social Affairs Ministry.

Bill van Esveld, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said he was first told by the Civil Administration offices in Beit El that his requests to enter the Strip were not being handled because of the military situation, but the Coordination and Liaison Administration at the Erez crossing told him that his requests weren’t being handled because the organization wasn’t registered with the foreign or the social affairs ministries.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said in a response that he had no knowledge of the complaints by Human Rights Watch. Regarding Amnesty, Palmor said its people could not enter Gaza because it isn’t registered with the Social Affairs Ministry.

“Entrance to the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing is permitted primarily to humanitarian and aid organizations, journalists, diplomats, and international political officials. This is government policy and the criteria that the government set. I am not aware of any effort to withhold entry permits or registration from Amnesty for any political reason. As noted, the organization, by its own admission, does not meet the criterion set [humanitarian aid].

Amnesty has asked several European foreign ministries to raise the issue with Israeli diplomats and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. No response has been received as yet.

COGAT’s written guidelines for the passage of foreigners through the Erez crossing, from September 2013, says employees of unrecognized (i.e., not registered with the Social Affairs Ministry) organization “may submit an exceptional request that will be considered in light of the prevailing policy based on the political-security situation.” In other words, the guidelines acknowledge the option of granting a permit to cross at Erez, if the authorities are interested in doing so.

Moshe foreach


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  • 18.
    Thank goodness
    It's been a long time since these organizations were serving justice. The Atlantic has a current article about how Human Rights Watch was seeking Saudi money with implicit promises of slamming Israel. Amnesty Int'l are no less the lying whores.
  • 17.
    Barring of Amnesty International and their fellow like organisations from Gaza
    Of course they should be barred. They are biased against Israel and I would go so far as to say that in some instances the assist the enemy of Israel
  • wait...
    How can Israel bar the entrance of anyone into a country that is not their own? Oh wait, can you say occupation?
  • 16.
    Gaza
    Damn right we don't want any human rights people to see our high technology destruction and killing fields. We are proud of the senseless killing of infants, bombing of schools and hospitals especially UN sites. We can hit them with pin point accuracy. No we won't let in any of these self righteous "do gooders" in.We can do anything we like because our grandparents died in the holocaust. The world owes us...right?
  • 15.
    Non admittance to Gaze by Israel
    A world wide petition should be made stating that the denial of admittance to Gaza is an shows an automatic quilt on Israels part and an attempt to cover up their crime.
  • 14.
    Propaganda, not human rights
    no one familiar with both the facts and how HRW and Amnesty have portrayed them in the past could be under any illusion that their goal is to conduct a "neutral" human rights investigation, as opposed to serving as prosecutors looking to indict Israel. We can start with how HRW send its ME coordinator to Saudi Arabia to raise money with the pitch that the organization needs to counter pro-Israel voices, go on to various errors and omissions its made in its reports, and detour to note the biographies of its ME staffers, all of whom had a background in anti-Israel activism, some not in human rights at all.
  • 13.
    Israel and Human Rights
    Is this how Israel wants to promote peace, democracy and secularism in the Middle East? I was told "Israel is frontier of the Free World"! Where is the freedom in this Holy land? On a reality check, Israel is a land-grabbing, theocratic militant state. Israel first needs to stop its land grabbing spree. Peace will follow.
  • 12.
    I did not think that Israel owned Gaza anymore.An investigation by ICC is the way to go .
  • 11.
    Repent first
    They should only be allowed to go to Gaza by crawling through the tunnels that had missiles and armaments. And then only after they visit the families of the Hamas killed Israeli soldiers and beg forgiveness.
  • Absurd
    According to you, human rights organisations must beg forgiveness from Jewish military families and the crawl on their hands and knees before they can do their job. With attitudes like yours it is not difficult to understand why Israels perception of itself as moral and just is so far from reality. The list of nations that similarly prevent human rights organisations from accessing conflict zones makes interesting bedfellows for Israel.
  • Homework First
    According to me the Muslim sponsored UNHRH should first document the source of the conflict they are to investigate--rockets fired into Israeli civilian populations. They need to see the source, storage, and effect of the rockets.
  • 10.
    Israel bars Amnesty, Human Rights Watch from Gaza
    We have the same policy in the USA. The prison warden decides who has access to the prisoners. Makes sense to me.
  • prison...
    So, you do agree that Gaza is a prison and Israel is the warden...
  • 9.
    Clearly, they have nothing to hide
  • 8.
    Self proclaimed Judges
    Both organisation Amnesty International and Human Right Watch are self proclaimed Judges of the World, or rather of wath they want to see. More than 50% of their business (they get huge amounts of money for that) is about Israel when the Israel-Arab conflict is less than 1% of casualties. And they choose to never look at many other problems occurring somewhere else. They just need Israel to be the Jew of the Nations, the ever guilty state.
  • 7.
    Go thru Egypt,simple.
  • 6.
    Nothing new here, Amira
    Until 2006 it was possible to go to the Gaza Srip, but since the election victory of Hamas the Gaza Strip has been turned into a prison. COGAT won't give you an outright NO. What is usually enough is to put bureaucratic delays in place. They tell you to make an application, which drags on and on and people run out of time before any decision is due. This is what COGAT is counting on. I urge Amnesty and HRW to keep on pressing their applications and see what happens. Sooner or later COGAT will have to give an answer. What is clear is that Israel will admit as few people as possible to Gaza Ghetto, because they are viewed as troublemakers.
  • 5.
    Democracy you say?!
  • 4.
    They should go via Rafah crossing instead.
  • Israel controls Rafah crossing via Egypt under the 2005 agreement and the Israel/Egypt peace treaty
  • Pretty hard to push past all the rubble that was once Rafah, isn't it?
    After all, the IDF did go all Hannibal on the place. Indiscriminate artillery and disproportionate bombing, 150 dead, and all to "rescue" a soldier who was dead before his remains were dragged out of the tunnel. So perhaps it is not the smartest idea to encourage Amnesty to start their tour at Rafah.....
  • 3.
    and you call this democracy?
  • 2.
    Hiding the scene of the crime from the world
    nothing to be afraid, then open Gaza for investigations to all.
  • # 2 What hiding? More film of Gaza and paliwood now than ever
    ISRAEL WINS ISRAEL QUOTES THE TERMS.
  • Israel has all t he reasons to be afariad of biased investigations based on fabricated evidence.The left and world media have been complicit
  • 1.
    How can this be??? Israel doesn't occupy Gaza...right? Seems someone has been LYING!!