Israel blocks rights groups from advocating for Gazans
Human rights groups that help Palestinians with urgent requests to leave Gaza – often for medical care – can no longer directly petition the Israeli authorities.
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His family submitted an application to take him there on Aug. 28, and the hospital was expecting them on Sept. 13. But the family never got a response from the Israeli authorities and missed the appointment they didn't know they had. The case was taken on by PHR Israel, which has been successful in the past in expediting the handling of urgent medical cases.Skip to next paragraph
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"We couldn't do a thing, since COGAT has stopped answering our phone calls and stopped cooperating with us," says Ran Yaron, director of PHR-Israel's Occupied Territories department.
"The lower-level officers were told not to pick up the phone, and on the rare cases that they do, they tell us, 'We don't work with you. If you need answers or to check the status of a case, go ask the Palestinian Authority.'"
However, he points out, only the Israeli military and COGAT, which is a division of Israel's Defense Ministry, has the ability to decide on an individual case.
The attitude of the military toward human rights groups has changed significantly since the war in Gaza, Mr. Yaron notes, and in particular this summer since the group Breaking the Silence released a series of controversial anonymous soldier testimonies that suggested shocking behavior in Gaza, which army officials have declared unreliable because they cannot be verified.
Army spokesman: Rights groups get in the way
The increased media attention over baby Mutasem in the past week, when the human rights groups lodged an official complaint against the new policy and launched a campaign to reverse the decision to shut them out, was likely what helped him get out of Gaza on Thursday.
As his father was crossing through the Erez checkpoint at midday, he told a Monitor reporter of a long ordeal from the day his son was born.
"Today I am here at Erez, and the life of the son I'm holding is in the hands of the Israeli army, which can help him survive or let him die," said Mohammed Abu-Mastfa, from the Khan Younis area of Gaza. After the family waited for weeks for an answer, he explained, they were told by the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs that their permit was refused. No reason was given. "We've spent a lot of time just watching him suffering," he said.
Maj. Guy Inbar, the spokesman for COGAT, says that the human rights groups have blown the issue out of proportion and are refusing to accept that the army insists all requests should come via the Palestinian office in Gaza.
"What we said in this letter is that there is a mechanism, and we intend that it will work as it should," Inbar said. "If the Palestinian Authority wants the population in the Gaza Strip to enter Israel for whatever reason, they should bring it to the attention of Palestinian coordinator. What the human rights organizations do is that they interfere in that mechanism. Most of the time they just get in the way, instead of doing it right."