Gisha petition reveals: not a single application for change-of-address from Gaza to the West Bank has been approved under the settlement procedure, AP 26662-07-13 Gisha v. Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories
The Procedure for Handling Applications by Gaza Strip Residents for Settlement in the Judea And Samaria Area (hereinafter: the procedure), severely limits the movement of Palestinian residents from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, allowing movement for the purpose of permanent settlement only in three distinctive cases: children who have lost a parent, chronic medical patients and elderly individuals in need of nursing care who have no other relatives in the Gaza Strip who are able to care for them. In HCJ 2088/10 HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual v. West Bank Military Commander, the Supreme Court noted that the procedure was too strict and that it should be mitigated. Therefore, in July 2013, the state presented a revised version of the settlement procedure. However, for the most part, the amendments offer no real departure from the previous version. The new procedure, like its predecessor, outlines the same three distinctive sets of circumstances that warrant filing applications for relocation from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.
Despite the procedure’s restrictive language, procedures, it is well known, are subject to interpretation, and whether they are implemented with greater or lesser flexibility is at the discretion of the administrative authority. To gauge how the procedure was being implemented, Gisha filed an application (Hebrew) under the Freedom of Information Act 5758-1998 (hereinafter: FOIA) to the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), containing a simple question: How many applications for settlement have been filed under the procedure since its initial publication in March 2009?
COGAT delayed, providing a response only after taking advantage of the full 120-day extension period permitted in the FOIA. When the response finally came, it turned out that it contained no reference to the aforesaid question, that the information it did provide was incomplete and misleading, and that it related to irrelevant data. After a complaint sent to COGAT, asking again for the information originally requested, was met with no response, Gisha was left with no choice but to file a petition (Hebrew) under the Freedom of Information Act to the Tel Aviv District Court sitting as the Court for Administrative Affairs in a bid to compel COGAT to provide a relevant answer. The petition was filed on July 14, 2013.
Four months after the petition was filed, and about a year after the original FOIA application was filed, the requested information was finally disclosed. In a joint statement (Hebrew) submitted by the parties on December 11, 2013, COGAT declared in an affidavit that the number of applications filed under the procedure was zero and that the address changes that were approved when the original version of the procedure was in effect were not a result of applications filed under the procedure.