The office of the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories ignored a Tuesday deadline set by human rights organizations, demanding that it cancel a decision made last month and allow them to continue representing Palestinians seeking to enter Israel on humanitarian grounds.
In a letter to Ruth Bar, assistant to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Hamoked-Center for the Defense of the Individual; Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, wrote, "We ask you to take action so that by Tuesday, October 6, we will see a change on the ground, whereby direct communication between the human rights organizations and officials in the office of the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories and the Israeli-Gaza Liaison Office will be renewed."
In the past few years, particularly after the 2007 takeover of Gaza by Hamas, which Israel refuses to deal with, the three human rights organizations have mediated between Palestinians seeking permits to enter Israel on humanitarian grounds, and the Israel-Gaza Liaison Office, which is responsible for considering such requests.
Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, such requests were to have been handled on behalf of Palestinian individuals by the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee directly with the Israel-Gaza Liaison Office. But as communications between Israel and Gaza broke down, Israeli humanitarian organizations stepped in to mediate between individual Palestinians and the Israeli authorities.
According to Hamoked spokesman Joel Greenberg, the three organizations together have represented hundreds of Palestinians so far this year.
"As you know, the activities of the human rights organizations directly with officials in the liaison office and the office of the coordinator have in many cases saved lives and solved problems without the need for any other intervention," the groups wrote in a letter to Amos Gilad, acting Coordinator of Activities in the Administered Territories, and Moshe Levy, commander of the Israel-Gaza Liaison Office.
On September 13, Levy informed the human rights groups that from now on, they must direct all their questions to the Palestinian committee, even though the committee does not approve applications but only sends them on to the Israeli side.
"Any requests on your part for us to deal with the individual cases of Palestinians, including requests for clarifications or updates which, according to the agreements, are the responsibility of the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee, will be directed to it," Levy wrote.
Since then, said Greenberg, the Israel-Gaza Liaison Office has refused to reply to phone calls from the human rights organizations and has told them to call the Palestinian committee instead.
"You are slamming the door in the face of the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip and closing the one channel of representation that it has," the organizations wrote. "As you know, Palestinian residents cannot appeal directly to you, even though you are the only body that can approve their requests."
Guy Inbar, spokesman for the coordinator of activities in the territories, insisted that the army was not severing communication with the human rights organizations but only "establishing the mechanism" for dealing with Palestinian requests.
"There is nothing new in this," he said.
Inbar added that in life-or-death cases, the liaison office would hear requests directly from any source, including the human rights groups.
The organizations are still hoping that the army will change its mind, even though the deadline has passed. If not, they will likely turn to the High Court of Justice, according to one official.