Response received in FOIA request submitted by Gisha and HaMoked on settlement procedure for West Bank residents in the Gaza Strip
On October 7, 2014, Gisha and HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual contacted the freedom of information officer at the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) with a request for facts and figures about the implementation of the procedure for settlement by West Bank residents in the Gaza Strip. The procedure was first published in December 2010.
The procedure institutionalizes Israel’s policy of separating the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and establishes that any movement of residents between the two areas should generally be kept to a minimum. However, the procedure does acknowledge that since Israel does not allow Gaza residents to settle in the West Bank other than in extremely exceptional cases, there is a need to allow West Bank residents to relocate to the Gaza Strip in order to maintain the family unit. According to the procedure, residents of the West Bank who are interested in moving to the Gaza Strip must sign a declaration stating that they understand the implications of their choice to relocate to the Gaza Strip, the most striking of these being the fact that, barring exceptional circumstances, there is little chance they will ever be able to return to the West Bank.
The Freedom of Information application made by Gisha and HaMoked sought to shed light on how the procedure was implemented in the period between January 2011 and August 2014 – how many applications for relocation to Gaza had been submitted and approved under the procedure, how many were denied and on what grounds. The organizations also asked for information about the declaration residents are required to sign and about the number of residents who had relocated to Gaza, and then asked to return to the West Bank.
On February 25, 2015, more than 120 days after the application was filed (the Freedom of Information Act allows 120 days for response from the time an application is made), a partial response (Hebrew) arrived from COGAT. The final response (Hebrew) arrived on March 26, 2015.
COGAT stated that 58 applications by West Bank residents to relocate to Gaza were approved between 2011 and 2014, seven of them made by men and 51 by women. COGAT further stated that between 2011 and 2014, six residents who had relocated to Gaza received a permit to return to the West Bank on one occasion, and seven received permits to return to the West Bank on more than one occasion.
COGAT did not respond to the organizations’ questions about the declarations residents are instructed to sign as a condition for relocating, and did not provide the total number of applications filed under the procedure. COGAT also failed to state how many relocation applications had been denied and on what grounds, but mentioned that the Civil Administration did not monitor such applications and that some had been lost in a fire.