The Israeli army has started asking left-wing groups that arrange meetings between Israelis and Palestinians for large quantities of information about their activities, funding sources and media efforts.
The army’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories is requesting members’ phone numbers, the position they hold in the organization and the training they’ve received, among other things. It has refused to issue entry permits for Palestinians going to Israel to meet with Israelis unless the groups supply this information. This demand is on top of the normal security check the Palestinians must undergo.
Israeli organizations say this is a significant change in COGAT’s demands, and is meant to prevent Palestinians from entering Israel for such meetings.
Activists from such groups received a form from COGAT detailing the new requirements Two months ago. The form, entitled “Important clarification of regulations regarding permits for ‘Israeli organizations,’” stressed that groups that disobey the new rules would face sanctions and that Palestinians would not be given entry permits for their activities.
A group seeking to bring Palestinians into Israel must now provide information about “the organization’s structure,” including details about key executives such as “their position, profession and training.” It must also name the members of its executive committee, board and advisory council, as well as its national field officer, training director, business manager, international development director and auditors.
In addition, it must provide telephone and mobile phone numbers for the organization’s contact people, founders and executives, examples of past activities and details of media reports about these activities.
The new rules make the organizations responsible for the Palestinians’ actions while they are in Israel. “Any violation is its sole responsibility,” says the form, referring to the organization, “even if there are middlemen en route.”
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This rule was made despite the fact that the Shin Bet security service, the agency responsible for deciding whether Palestinians pose a security risk, conducts the security checks on which all Palestinian entry permits are conditioned.
COGAT is also demanding a lot of information about any activity lasting longer than one day. Permit applications must list “every meeting, workshop or conference that will take place. The level of detail will be maximal. The request will include details of the exact date of each meeting, the nature of each meeting, the program for each meeting and the speakers at the meeting.”
“Once, all that was needed was general details,” said an activist with an organization that holds art workshops for blind Palestinian children in Israel. “Today, they’re piling on indescribable difficulties.”
“They’re doing everything they can so that nothing will take place,” she added, charging that the stringent new rules are meant to wear the organizers down.
“There’s a feeling that each time, they want to know more about the organizations and the people active in them,” said another activist. “They already know everything about the Palestinians,” she added.
Alongside the stricter requirements, COGAT has also shortened the length of the permits given to the Palestinians. Organizations were previously given six-month permits good for hundreds of entries into Israel. But over the last two months, they have received only one-month permits good for a maximum of seven entries by each Palestinian.
COGAT said the new rules are a response to a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv last year, in which an 18-year-old Palestinian from Nablus lightly wounded four people with a wire-cutter. The perpetrator had received his permit to enter Israel at the request of an Israeli organization that works to promote Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Several groups said the change was spearheaded by a new lieutenant who was put in charge of the relevant COGAT department.
“Each time they get a new commander there, they demand everything anew,” said Netta Hazan of Combatants for Peace. “What’s changed in the current request is the far more comprehensive information about the activists rather than just the organization. This time, they’re asking for information about the people, the activists, the organization’s hierarchy, the names of officials. These are irrelevant to the events we plan.”
Some organizations are refusing to cooperate with the new requirements, saying they constitute a crude invasion of activists’ privacy.
Rami Elhanan of the Parents Circle Families Forum said he hasn’t seen the new rules, but in any case doesn’t intend to obey them. “I know this flickered in some fashion a few months ago and faded away in some fashion,” he said. “I haven’t signed anything and I haven’t signed off on any provision.”
COGAT responded, “From time to time, the Civil Administration’s permits center updates its information about organizations that seek to receive permits to arrange Palestinian visits to Israel. This process is conducted to update and verify information about the organizations. We’ll note that since the attack which occurred on the Tel Aviv promenade on April 4, 2017, in which a young Palestinian exploited his presence in Israel as part of the visits organized by these organizations, the procedures needed to issue entry permits for visits to Israel have been clarified.”