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Palestinians ruled by secret regulations even the army can't explain

Whether they want to attend family gatherings, open a business or visit sick relatives, Palestinians under occupation must adhere to military regulations, the vast majority of which are hidden from public scrutiny.

By Maayan Niezna

“There are no secret laws in Israel. […] Legislation that is passed secretly and kept away from the eye of the public is one of the characteristics of a totalitarian government, and is not in line with the rule of law” (Judge Cohen, Civil Appeal 421/61, State of Israel v. Haz [4], pg. 2204-2205)

No one knows why, but Israel has a regulation that prevents Palestinians from entering the city of Eilat. Even those who hold entry permits into Israel cannot enter. Even the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the unit charged with coordinating activities in the occupied territories (which oversees the implementation of the procedure), does not know the reason for its existence. It once had a document explaining the origin of the procedure, but it got lost. For at least the past two years, COGAT has been searching for the reason behind the strange restriction. And until they find it, Palestinians will be prevented from entering Eilat. Just like that.

An Israeli soldier checks a Palestinian man’s documents at a checkpoint outside the West Bank city of Hebron on June 17, 2014, as the hunt for three Israeli teenagers believed kidnapped by militants entered its fifth day. (Photo: Tess Scheflan/Activestills.org)

An Israeli soldier checks a Palestinian man’s documents at a checkpoint outside the West Bank city of Hebron on June 17, 2014. (Photo: Tess Scheflan/Activestills.org)

Eilat is just one example. The Freedom of Information Law obligates all public-benefit corporations to publish their regulations. COGAT has knowingly been breaking the law for years. Over the years, Israeli NGO Gisha has filed various petitions to request specific regulations. Eventually the organization got tired of chasing after COGAT (the unit never publishes procedures of its own volition), and requested that the court force it to publish all of its regulations. In the beginning of the month Gisha received some good news: COGAT finally began publishing regulations previously unavailable on its website.

For example, COGAT published a regulation titled “Issuing permits to residents of the Gaza Strip for humanitarian reasons (weddings and funerals)” in October, which organizes the bureaucratic steps that the residents of Gaza must undertake if they wish to attend a funeral or wedding of a family member.

The rights of Palestinians as well as the state’s obligations toward them are not anchored in law but rather in a series of regulations. These regulations are the closest thing to a legal codex, which touch upon the Palestinians’ most basic rights: they establish where people can live, whether they can make a living, where they can pray and whether or not they can travel abroad. These are the same regulations that establish whether a Palestinian father can take part in the his daughter’s wedding, whether a student can sign up for a master’s degree, whether a grandmother can visit her grandchildren and when the sick can receive medical care.

Finally, during a discussion that took place on November 19, Gisha discovered that the state itself does not know how many of these regulations actually exist. State representatives admit that they do not have an updated list of these regulations. They have a list from 2008, which they claim is old and no longer relevant. The working assumption is that 90 regulations do not appear on COGAT’s website, which means that approximately 50 percent of COGAT’s regulations have never been published. These are dozens of “secret laws” that dictate the lives of millions of people.

Palestinians wait at the Gaza side of the Erez crossing, Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, November 19, 2013. Erez is the only point of crossing for persons between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and with the tightening of the siege, a very low number of Palestinians are able to obtain permits. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Palestinians wait at the Gaza side of the Erez crossing, Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, November 19, 2013. Erez is the only point of crossing for persons between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and with the tightening of the siege, a very low number of Palestinians are able to obtain permits. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

If the army commanders don’t know the regulations, then surely the Palestinian residents of the occupied territories don’t know them either. And as previously mentioned, these regulations relate to basic necessities such as work, health and family life. Furthermore, there is no way to criticize illogical regulations, and there is a fear that what is allowed in one place is forbidden in another. Without an open list of regulations, the potential for corruption and arbitrary activity becomes enormous. In reality, nothing can stop a 19-year-old sergeant from refusing an important request, simply because he feels like it. Certain people will get permission, others will be rejected, and not a single person can know why.

Even today we know that many of these prohibitions are illogical. They are inconsistent, irrelevant, do not ensure security and no one knows why they are there.

Regulations in Hebrew or gibberish?

For the time being Gisha has amassed quite a bit of information thanks to its petition. Thirty new regulations were added to the COGAT website in October, which is nearly half the number of regulations published up to that point. Gisha has never heard of over half of them, but will no doubt make use of them (some expand on or make clear information that was available in the past, such as “permit status,” which contains all the different rules regarding the movement of Palestinians.)

It is difficult to explain what kind of difference this makes for the average Israeli citizen, who is used to freedom of movement, freedom of occupation and an unfettered family life. For example, one of the new regulations deals with exiting Gaza in order to visit a sick relative abroad. Very few of these types of requests are submitted to the army, probably because most Palestinians do not know that such an option exists.

Infographic courtesy of Gisha.

Infographic courtesy of Gisha.

Gisha further requested that all the regulations be translated into Arabic so that they are accessible to the Palestinian population. One of the important gains of publishing the regulations, especially in Arabic, is that people discover that there is a possibility, however limited, to submit requests over things they previously never thought to try. Until now, most of the regulations were never translated to Arabic. Even the ones that were “translated” were actually written in gibberish. COGAT has pledged to translate the regulations that “are meant for the Arabic-speaking population.”

Among the regulations that were never published are regulations that the army uses on a regular bases. One example is the “regulation for divided families,” which arranges travel from Israel to Gaza for Israelis who have family in both Israel and the Strip. Some of these regulations were established five, seven or even 10 years ago. However, until now they have not been published, and the army has made no effort to bring them to the attention of the public. Even the state agrees that the army has been violating its legal obligations. We can only hope that something will change.

Maayan Niezna is an attorney at Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here

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    1. Brian

      “Until now, most of the regulations were never translated to Arabic. Even the ones that were “translated” were actually written in gibberish.”

      Nothing better captures the letter and spirit of the occupation and its apologists.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Best comment so far this morning – went great with my coffee!

      Reply to Comment
    3. Bryan

      Surely secret laws are not the hallmark of a totalitarian state, but of a rogue state or a failing state?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben Zakkai

      Hasbaraketeers, repeat after me: Palestinians don’t hate us because we make their lives hell and not too infrequently jail, maim or kill them, all the while stealing the ground and water out from under their feet; Palestinians hate is becasue they’re EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVIL (hat tip to Gustav).

      Reply to Comment
    5. Israel’s army behave according to appropriate regulations since our citizenes are in permanent danger.

      Reply to Comment
      • Yeah, Right

        “Israel’s army behave according to appropriate regulations since our citizenes are in permanent danger.”

        Then Israel should have no problem publishing all of those regulations, correct?

        Reply to Comment
      • These type of regulations have nothing to do with security they have a lot to do with hate.The comparison to Hitlers anti Semitic laws is easy to make.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Bruce Gould

      Once I heard three Palestinian guys speak at a progressive Jewish temple in my city – they weren’t allowed to talk about anything political, no 1948, no Oslo accords, none of that stuff – they were just allowed to talk about their personal experiences growing up and living in the West Bank. I tell people that the IDF has turned the West Bank into Alabama circa 1900, if you get the reference.

      Reply to Comment
      • –Yes, I do.

        Reply to Comment
      • Sluggo

        Bruce, and the people you tell this to surely think you are a fool.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Noevil9

      There is no mystery about such lack of clarity and transparency , Israel intentions are very clear against the Plestinians as the proof on the grounds indicates for 66 years. Israel does not care nor want o behave in a normal ,humane, or logical form, as it does not care what the rest of the “Goy ” world thinks ,and wants the Palestinians to feel confused, oppressed, and persecuted as this is its primary goal, as to force them to act in desperation as to fulfill the Hasbara image it portrays of the Palestinians resistance or just individuals, as to prove to the world that the Palestinians are sub humans who don’t deserve a place and freedom of choice as the Jews do. This is what Israel/zionists have done before and after the forced creation of Israel. The rest of why its not clear is all by design to deceive and confuse the less intelligent and” Chosen” ! Listen and watch Naftaly Bennets interview, by Martin Indyk in Washinton, Saban Forum , its very telling about the nature of the Israel/Zionist mentality and intentions without all the PR sugar coated to fool those who don’t approve of full support to all Israel crimes against the Palestinians, and the rest of the world! He even has the Chutzpah to threaten Europe of a disastors if it dares to Boycott Israel products, when Israel annexes the West Bank and East Jerusalem,by shutting down their cell phones,the stent in their base makers , and hacking their bank accounts. If that is not Terror, I don’t know what is ? Israel since inspetion has been acting irrational and committing crimes intentialy with full awareness of the wrong doing. That has nothing to do with creating a safe home for the Jewish people, which the majority of the world does not have a problem with. Israel and its Zionists founders have been hiding behind that humane portrait while its accomplishing a much more sinister goal that they wish to force down our throats !

      Reply to Comment