AL Jazeera By Farah Najjar Posted Tues. April 04, 2017
Israel has been barring entry to and from the besieged Gaza Strip for human rights workers and researchers, according to a new report by international rights organisation, Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In the report, titled “Unwilling or Unable: Israel Restrictions on Travel to and from Gaza for Human Rights Workers”, the US-based organisation expressed concerns over the restriction of entry to human rights workers who require access to the strip in order to investigate possible crimes committed during the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza.
“For the last two decades, Israel has kept the strip mostly closed off,” with exceptions for humanitarian circumstances, Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine advocacy director at HRW, told Al Jazeera.
Bashi added that last year Israel allowed about 12,000 entries from the Gaza Strip to the occupied West Bank and Israel, but “categorically denies that access to Palestinian and foreign human rights workers” who want to document abuses on the ground in Gaza.
The report also calls into question the Israeli military’s claim to rely on human rights organisations as a vital source of data for their investigations into potential crimes and rights violations committed during the war. HRW said such restrictions on entry” raises questions not just about the willingness of Israel’s military authorities to conduct genuine investigations, but also their ability to do so.”
“Those restrictions affect nearly every aspect of life in Gaza, including the ability of human rights workers to document violations of human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) and to advocate for their remediation,” the report said.
According to the report, Israel systematically denies access to HRW workers and researchers, and has been doing so ever since it imposed a siege on the strip in 2008.
Gaza, whose population amounts to two million, has been under a decade-long blockade imposed by Israel following the 2007 electoral victory of the Hamas movement in the strip.
Gaza shares border crossings with Israel, as well as Egypt. The Rafah crossing, bordering Egypt’s northern Sinai is also predominantly blocked by Egyptian authorities, allowing limited access for humanitarian reasons.
Asked how many workers were denied entry during the previous years, Bashi said, “It is easier to say how many were allowed in.” According to Bashi, only one HRW staff researcher was allowed entry in 2011, to document violations of human rights against Israel.
Along with Israel, the report casts the blame on Hamas and neighbouring Egypt, but says the main responsibility lies with Israel as the main controller of the strip’s borders. Israel maintains sole control over Gaza’s territorial waters and airspace.