Hamas, Rafah crossing - AP - June 2011
Hamas officials at the Rafiah crossing between Gaza and Sinai in June. Hamas exploits the chaos in Egypt and makes optimal use of the 'beautiful people' who organize flotillas. Photo by AP
Text size

The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip recently imposed new travel restrictions on Palestinians active in non-governmental organizations in what the Palestinian NGO Network regards as another Hamas attempt to control and hamper them.

What do you think about this article? Visit Haaretz.com on Facebook and share your views.

The Hamas interior ministry announced on its website on August 10 that anyone leaving Gaza, in the framework of NGO activity, must provide details of the trip to the ministry’s NGO department. The details include: the purpose, duration and destination of the trip, a description of the project, and the names of the host and group involved, along with the names and personal details of other participants.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights issued a statement expressing “horror” at the new development. Gaza sources say the NGO representatives are trying to get Hamas officials to revoke the regulations, which are the latest in a series of government measures affecting the financial affairs and staffing of local and foreign NGOs.

Tharut al Bic, head of the interior ministry’s NGO department, is cited in the government-owned al-Rai newspaper as saying that the new instructions are intended to make it easier for travellers to better organize their trip and to preserve order. He did not say how the numerous details the NGOs are required to provide would make the trip easier.

Al Bic urged the NGOs operating in Gaza not to portray the required arrangement in a negative light.

The law regulating relations between the Palestinian Authority and NGOs was enacted by the Palestinian Council in 2000. Every change the Gaza government makes in the law is seen by the NGOs as a violation of a basic Palestinian law.

Meanwhile the announcement of the new regulations has been removed from the interior ministry’s site.

These are not the Hamas government’s only restrictions on the freedom of movement of Gaza residents. Those leaving via the Erez border crossing must first pass through a Palestinian police inspection. Fatah members, among the few to whom Israel grants exit permits, are occasionally stopped at the Hamas inspection facility and required to go to the interior ministry’s national security department, where they are questioned about the purpose of their departure.

Hamas sometimes denies Fatah or PLO members’ departure at the Rafah terminal in similar ways. In the past, Hamas has forbidden doctors, who wanted to travel to the West Bank for the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry exams in Ramallah, to leave Gaza.

About 10 days ago Hamas prohibited high school students, who received a scholarship for a year’s study in the United States, from leaving the Gaza Strip.

The government also prohibited children from leaving Gaza to attend a West Bank summer camp financed by a Western body, after Israel had issued them exit permits.

Palestinians leaving Gaza via the Rafah terminal are required to register in advance at the interior ministry, to enable coordination with the Egyptian authorities and to ensure that sick people and other emergency cases receive priority. The number of people permitted to leave is restricted, if only for technical reasons.

All these measures come in addition to the restrictions Israel imposes on Palestinians leaving Gaza. Israel permits only two groups to leave regularly via the Erez crossing − those carrying VIP cards, such as elected Fatah officials of the Palestinian Legislative Council and senior PA officials, as well as a few dozen Palestinian businesspeople, whose exit permits are renewed periodically. They must all coordinate their departure with the Israeli coordination and liaison administration.

Sick people wishing to leave the Gaza Strip must submit applications and meet various conditions to be allowed to do so.

Since June, Hamas authorities have instructed foreign nationals who stay in Gaza for over a week to obtain a special visitor’s card. Every foreign national is required to register with the interior ministry a week after his arrival.

At first Hamas charged 5 Jordanian dinars for a visitor’s card, but the Quartet on the Middle East prohibits nationals from Western states ‏(except for Switzerland and Norway‏) from maintaining official ties or engaging in financial transactions with Hamas authorities.

As a result, Hamas agreed to exempt diplomats and UN officials from payment for the visitor’s card.