The Israeli military authorities are blocking access to and from the Gaza Strip for human rights workers who document abuses and advocate to end them, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The travel restrictions call into question the Israeli military authorities’ claim to rely on human rights organizations as an important source of information for their criminal investigations into potential serious crimes committed during the 2014 Gaza war.
The 47-page report, “Unwilling or Unable: Israeli Restrictions on Travel to and from Gaza for Human Rights Workers,” documents how Israel systematically bars human rights workers from traveling into and out of it, even where the Israeli security services make no security claims against them as individuals. Egypt is also imposing severe travel restrictions on its border with it. The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor’s office should take note of the restrictions in the context of its ongoing preliminary examination of the Palestine situation.
“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, Israel and Palestine advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “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.”
For the last two decades and especially since 2007, Israel has kept the Gaza Strip mostly closed, preventing Palestinians from leaving it to pursue educational and professional opportunities, family visits and reunification, and medical care, save on an exceptional basis. The restrictions imposed by Egypt on its border that have significantly contributed to this de facto closure.
On March 26, 2017, the Hamas authorities began significantly tightening restrictions on passage between Gaza and Israel, following the assassination of a senior militant that Hamas blames on Israel. Hamas says it wants to stop the killers from fleeing Gaza. The Hamas authorities are blocking nearly all travel out of Gaza, unless it is for medical care or to visit relatives in Israeli prisons. Males between the ages of 15 and 45 are being blocked from traveling altogether. These harsh and disproportionate restrictions are preventing young men from reaching badly needed medical care, and family visits to critically ill relatives or for funerals are among the kinds of travel blocked entirely.