Gisha files Freedom of Information applications seeking publication of the guidelines governing the sale of Gaza goods, agricultural and other, in the West Bank
In early October 2014 (Hebrew), and for the first time since June 2007, the IDF Spokesperson announced that Gaza produce would be permitted for sale in the West Bank. This welcomed announcement was met with great excitement by Gaza distributors, whose livelihoods depend on this approval. However when they tried to ship goods out of the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing, they discovered that the general permit for trade between Gaza and the West Bank was not followed up with the publication of guidelines on how this trade would take place.
Publicizing guidelines for shipping produce from Gaza to the West Bank is important, not just because the authorities have a duty to do so under the Freedom of Information Act 5758-1998 (FOIA), but also for practical reasons – without familiarity with the guidelines governing the shipment of goods out of Gaza, distributors will not be able to navigate the red tape involved.
Therefore, on November 11, 2014, about a month after the IDF Spokesperson made the announcement that trade would be permitted, Gisha filed an application under the FOIA (Hebrew) to the Freedom of Information Officer at the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), asking for the publication of the guidelines for produce sales.
On January 12, 2015, we received a partial response from COGAT Freedom of Information Officer (Hebrew), stating that, as a rule, coordination for the sale of Gaza produce in the West Bank is made by the Palestinian Authority representative at the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture and that COGAT does not take part in the coordination process.
The Freedom of Information Officer also said in her response that trade would be subject to directives issued by the Ministry of Agriculture with respect to the shipment of produce, due to concerns about the transfer of pests and disease from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, and that a closed list of produce approved for sale would be published. We received the list on January 18, 2015, and it is available here (Hebrew).
One item in our initial application remained unanswered – questions regarding how goods should be arranged for shipment inside the trucks. It appeared that this issue was in the purview of the Israel Police. Therefore, Gisha made an application under the FOIA, to the Freedom of Information Officer at the Israel Police (Hebrew). No response has been received to date.
As months went by, it has become apparent that policy on the sale of non-agricultural goods from Gaza in the West Bank has also changed, and therefore, on February 3, 2015, we made another application to the COGAT Freedom of Information Officer (Hebrew), requesting, as we did with respect to produce, for the directives on the sale of non-agricultural goods such as furniture and textiles. The Officer has yet to respond.