Petition filed in response to refusal to disclose information on the status of change-of-address applications as part of the diplomatic gesture, AP 41146-10-14 Bali v. Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories
On October 26, 2014, Gisha filed a petition (Hebrew) under the Freedom of Information Act 5758-1998 (FOIA) with the Tel Aviv District Court sitting as the Court for Administrative Affairs. The petition was filed on behalf of four Palestinian residents of the West Bank whose registered addresses are in the Gaza Strip. The petitioners sought to be included in the diplomatic change-of-address gesture announced by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on February 4, 2011, as part of a package of gestures extended to the Palestinians in honor of a visit by Quartet envoy, Mr. Tony Blair. However, the petitioners received no response to the applications they filed with the Palestinian Authority three and four years ago. The petitioners still do not know whether their applications have been transferred to the Israelis, and if so whether they were reviewed and decided.
During its attempts to have the issue of the petitioners’ registered addresses resolved, Gisha sent applications under the FOIA to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which oversees processing and resolution of applications filed as part of the diplomatic gesture. Three of the four applications were never answered (despite being submitted several months ago), in breach of the law.
In its response to the fourth application, the freedom of information officer refused to divulge the information, citing section 9(a)(1) of the FOIA, and explaining that disclosing the information would damage Israel’s foreign relations. The petition was filed based on this response and the lack thereof in other cases. Gisha argued that the respondents’ conduct contravened the principle of transparency and good governance and violated the petitioners’ right to information, as well as the public’s interest. The petition also stated that the complete lack of response to three of the applications was a breach of the FOIA.
Gisha also maintained that refusing to disclose the information due to alleged damage to foreign relations was baseless and failed to meet the conditions set out in case law. According to case law, a refusal based on these grounds is justifiable only when substantive damage to Israel’s foreign relations is a near certain possibility. It is difficult to see how answering an individual’s question regarding his or her change of address could cause such damage. Gisha added that the respondents’ position contradicted their position in similar cases, in which the information was disclosed, and provided ample examples demonstrating that the respondents had in fact disclosed information regarding individual requests made as part of the gesture by Palestinian residents, including recently, with respect to one of the petitioners.
The issue at the center of this petition is very similar to the one discussed in another petition filed by Gisha, AP 49257-10-13 Abu Matar v. Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. The court rejected this earlier petition, though in practice, the addresses of all the petitioners therein were changed to the West Bank.
To read the petition (Hebrew)