Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Rights groups call on Israel to allow investigators into Gaza

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch say Israel won't permit them into Gaza to assess war-crimes allegations

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International renewed a call to Israel on Wednesday to allow the groups access to Gaza via the Israeli-controlled border, saying in a joint press release that the resumption of fighting makes it more important than ever for their investigators to monitor the situation.

“The Israeli authorities appear to have been playing bureaucratic games with us over access to Gaza, conditioning it on entirely unreasonable criteria even as the death toll mounts,” Anne FitzGerald, Amnesty International’s director of Research and Crisis Response, said in the release.

Click for more coverage of Gaza

At least 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 7. More than 10,000 Gazans have been injured and half a million internally displaced. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers have died in combat and three civilians have been killed by rocket attacks on Israeli cities. Both sides have been accused of violating the laws of war during the most deadly conflict between Israel and the occupied Gaza Strip since Hamas took power in 2007.

The rights groups said they want to send researchers into the territory to assess competing claims, and that Israel should not interfere with such independent investigations.

“The victims’ and the public’s right to know about what happened during the hostilities requires the Israeli authorities to ensure full transparency about their actions and to refrain from hindering independent and impartial research into all alleged violations,” FitzGerald said.

Amnesty said it has submitted three applications for a permit to enter Gaza through the Israeli-controlled Erez Crossing to Israel’s civil administration since July 7. While the administration said each time that it could not process the requests because the border was closed, journalists, United Nations staff, and others with permits had entered Gaza through Erez during the same period, Amnesty reported.

The group then unsuccessfully requested assistance from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The policy is that only nongovernmental organizations known by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not only known but registered there, will be approved,” Major Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), told Al Jazeera. “Human Rights Watch and Amnesty are not known, therefore their request was denied.”

When asked what the requirements were to register with the ministry, Inbar referred Al Jazeera to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which referred Al Jazeera to the Israeli consulate in New York City, which did not respond to the request for comment.

“We also offered them to send a request in a unique way, not through the international branch, but we still haven’t received that request,” Inbar added.

A second request process can be carried out through Israel’s Ministry of Social Affairs, but it requires the organization to have a permanent office in Israel, Deborah Hyams, an Amnestry International researcher on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, said.

“There are requirements for that process that we don’t think we can meet and we don’t think access to the Gaza Strip should be conditioned on that process,” Hyams said. “Israel has an obligation to facilitate investigations.”

One example of a disputed claim Amnesty wants to investigate is the debate over whether some Palestinian civilians killed in a United Nations school were struck by Israel or by munitions from Gazan armed groups. Hyams said the only way to establish the truth is to allow independent researchers into Gaza.

Investigators from Amnesty have been effectively barred from entering Gaza through Erez since 2012. Human Rights Watch has not received a permit to cross since 2006. Prior to that, Israel did not require the group to register or seek special exception, the release said.

Human Rights Watch said in the release that it received similar responses from Israel to its request for a permit to cross Erez, with Israeli authorities saying the group was not eligible because it was not a registered organization.

Israeli officials said they have the ability to make an exception, according to the release, and HRW requested such an exception on Aug. 17, but has not received a response.

Both sides in the conflict have been accused of carrying out war crimes, with Israel being accused of failing to distinguish between civilian and military targets and breaching the principle of proportionality – meaning that military advantage gained by targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure must outweigh the harm caused by the attack.

Armed groups in Gaza have shot hundreds of rockets indiscriminately into Israel, breaking the principle of distinction. They have also been accused of operating out of and storing weapons in civilian infrastructure, and of encouraging civilians to act as human shields.

“If Israel is confident in its claim that Hamas is responsible for civilian deaths in Gaza, why is it blocking human rights organizations from carrying out on-site investigations,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW, said in the release. “Talking points by a party to the conflict don’t determine whether attacks violated the laws of war, but field investigations could.”

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter