In summary: Gisha’s work on Freedom of Information in 2013
The Freedom of Information Act 5758-1998 (FOIA) is an important tool in Gisha’s work. By revealing information held by Israeli authorities, we gain insight into the system of rules and protocols that govern the lives of people living in the Palestinian territory. We use information received in our representation of individual clients and also publish it because of the significant public value it has as a primary source on Israeli policies vis-à-vis residents of the Palestinian territory. In spite of the fact that details of policies and procedures are essential for an open and informed debate on some of the core issues facing the region, this information usually remains hidden from public view.
For example, a FOIA petition we filed in 2013 (AP 26662-07-13 Gisha v. Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) led to the exposure of an important facet of the separation policy that Israel employs with respect to travel of individuals between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The petition revealed that not a single application has been approved under the procedure that regulates relocation from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank since its publication in 2009.
Another FOIA petition that Gisha filed in 2013 (AP 49257-10-13 Abu Matar v. Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) addressed whether Israeli authorities have an obligation to provide Palestinian residents with information on the status of their applications to update their address in the Israeli-controlled population registry. The petition is still pending.
Gisha’s petition AP 27605-01-11 Gisha v. Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit led to the release of information on quotas for employing Palestinian residents in Israel and the number of work permits actually issued. Proceedings related to the petition spanned a two-and-a-half year period and eventually resulted in both the Population Administration and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) making available online all the forms potential employers are required to complete in order to apply to employ Palestinians in Israel. In addition, over the course of the proceedings, the authorities published protocols that had previously been kept from the public , including the protocol for employment of Palestinians in Israel (Hebrew), which details the process for obtaining work permits, the protocol for issuing magnetic cards (Hebrew), which Palestinian workers are required to carry when entering Israel, and the protocol for removing a security block, which details how a person can be removed from the list of individuals barred from entering Israel.
Throughout 2013, Gisha filed 19 applications and three petitions under the FOIA. In addition, three complaints were lodged with the Ministry of Justice’s Freedom of Information Unit concerning non-compliance with the law, and one with the State Comptroller’s Ombudsman. As a result of our intensive efforts to promote transparency, for the first time, documents known as “status of closure authorizations” were published on COGAT’s website. These are periodically updated orders that list travel restrictions imposed on the Palestinian civilian population. In addition, nine COGAT protocols (the existence of which we had not previously been aware) were released during the year. Finally, as a result of another FOIA petition filed in 2013 (AP 21525-07-13 Gisha v. Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories), COGAT added a Freedom of Information page to its website and will begin publishing an annual Freedom of Information report, as required by law.