COGAT denies Freedom of Information application made by Gisha regarding application refusals on the basis of security restrictions registered against Palestinian residents
According to the policy practiced by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Palestinian residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip may submit requests to enter Israel for various reasons. All procedures require security clearance before a permit can be issued.
Many Palestinians who submit such applications to the Civil Administration in the West Bank and the District Coordination Office (DCO) in Gaza are turned down because they have a security preclusion. This restriction is usually instituted without prior warning, without providing the individual an opportunity to contest it and without any explanation. The restriction is usually not time-bound and it is impossible to know the basis for the restriction or how it may be removed.
In order to understand how prevalent security restrictions are and what procedures regulate refusals on the basis of security restrictions, Gisha filed a Freedom of Information application (Hebrew) on the matter to COGAT on January 7, 2015. In a reply dated February 18, 2015 (Hebrew), the COGAT spokesperson wrote that the information requested is managed by the Israel Security Agency (ISA) and therefore the Freedom of Information Act did not apply. Consequently, on March 12, 2015, Gisha requested information (Hebrew) from the Prime Minister’s Office on the matter of security restrictions. Once again, the PMO refused to respond and replied on May 25, 2015 (Hebrew) that the Freedom of Information Act did not apply to the ISA.
Given these refusals to provide pertinent answers as to how security preclusions are instituted and removed, Gisha once again contacted COGAT (Hebrew), this time with a more limited request solely to receive information regarding decisions that COGAT officials had made to reject or approve requests to enter Israel on the basis of security restrictions, since final authority to make such decisions rests with COGAT, whereas the ISA is only a consulting body.
On August 13, 2015, more than 120 days after Gisha filed the Freedom of Information application, the COGAT Freedom of Information officer replied (Hebrew) that there was concern that disclosing the information could “jeopardize national security, public safety or the safety of an individual”. Therefore, under section 9(a)(1) of the Freedom of Information Act, the request was denied. The officer added that “this position is in accordance with the opinion of security officials who maintained that the information requested could not be divulged for security reasons, including concern that it would lead to the exposure of ISA operation systems and methods”. This reply is difficult to understand given that the information that Gisha requested is under the control and responsibility of COGAT – the body that rules on applications made by Palestinian residents. Gisha plans to petition the Court for Administrative Affairs against this decision.