Israel Bars Amnesty International & Human Rights Watch from Entering Gaza, Hindering Investigations

August 19, 2014, Tuesday @ 10:03 in World | Views: 1220
Israel Bars Amnesty International & Human Rights Watch from Entering Gaza, Hindering Investigations The look of settlements in the Gaza Strip. Photo: wikimedia.org

Israel has been preventing Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch workers from entering Gaza to investigate allegations of war crimes and human rights violations, a media report supported by group members’ statements claims, Russia Today has learnt.

However, human rights groups have been failing in their attempt to get permission from the regional Civil Administration to enter Gaza since July 7, Israeli media outlet Haaretz reports.

Israeli authorities gave two reasons for their refusal to grant appropriate permits: the closure of the Erez border crossing, situated between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and that neither group features a list of aid groups approved by Israel’s Ministry of Social Affairs.

But an Israeli newspaper stressed that the Erez border crossing was in fact opened to "journalists, UN employees and Palestinians in need of medical care" during Operation Protective Edge, which was launched July 8.

The newspaper also says that according to the Israeli COGAT (coordinator of government activity in the territories) guidelines, exceptions can be made for organizations that are not included on the list. The authority claims that unrecognized groups "may submit an exceptional request that will be considered in light of the prevailing policy based on the political-security situation".

HRW representatives have been barred from entering Gaza through the Erez crossing since 2006, while Amnesty’s representatives have been not allowed to cross since June 2012. The two organizations were able to use Egypt’s Rafah border crossing to enter Gaza until Mohamed Morsi’s government was toppled by the country’s armed forces in 2013. Since then, Egypt has not issued a clear response as to why it has closed its own border, though its military has been active in the Sinai, RT notes.

While both HRW and Amnesty International have made active attempts to obtain permission from Israel to enter the Strip, their requests have been refused on seemingly bureaucratic grounds.

Amnesty was told that it could not be registered with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and the Social Affairs Ministry said the body does not qualify under the aid or humanitarian organizations category, said Amnesty’s Executive Director in Israel, Yonatan Gher.

Reportedly, only UN agencies are featuring the list approved by the Israeli authorities.

Both groups have voiced criticism to Israel, arguing that the ban has been obstructing investigations into the human rights violations and war crimes on behalf of Israel’s military and Hamas.

"We’re doing everything we can, both Human Rights Watch and us, to do all the documentation we can, both on the ground in Gaza and remotely. But not being able to have researchers there does create difficulties," Amnesty worker Deborah Hyams told Reuters, adding that the group had only one local worker on the ground.

At the same time, HRW Middle East researcher Bill Van Esveld said his organization had two representatives in Gaza.

"They’re overwhelmed. There’s so much to look into ... and physical evidence about the events there is disappearing as time goes by," he said.

In response, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor told Haaretz that he was not aware of complaints by HRW, but said Amnesty’s representatives could not enter Gaza because the group was not 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]," the spokesman said.

The entry bans come amid international concerns regarding Israel and its alleged violation of war and humanitarian laws.

Last month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said Israel may be committing war crimes in Gaza. Speaking in Geneva, Navi Pillay said demolitions of houses and killing of children lift the "strong possibility" that Israel is violating international law.

Tags: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, HRW, Gaza, Strip, war crimes, human rights violations, Hamas, Israel, Ministry of Social Affairs, Operation Protective Edge, investigation, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights