Petition under the Freedom of Information Act filed against the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories regarding procedure for settlement in the West Bank, AP 26662-07-13
The Procedure for Handling Applications by Gaza Strip Residents for Settlement in the Judea and Samaria Area (hereinafter: the settlement procedure) determines the circumstances according to which Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip may move to and settle in the West Bank. The procedure was introduced in the context of HCJ 3592/08 Hamidat v. Commander of the Army Forces in the West Bank, as a result of the need to find an appropriate humanitarian solution for those affected by the separation policy between Gaza Strip and West Bank residents. Recently, in HCJ 2088/10 HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual v. Commander of the West Bank, the state undertook to amend the procedure in line with the suggestions made by the Supreme Court. In light of this, Gisha, in cooperation with HaMoked, filed an application under the Freedom of Information Act 5758-1998, in order to obtain information about how the procedure was being applied prior to the amendments.
On November 26, 2012, we submitted an application for information to the official in charge of implementing the Freedom of Information Act, asking to receive facts and statistics with regards to the procedure (Hebrew). The application included a request for clarifications about how applications filed under the procedure were reviewed and answered. We also asked for the number of applications that had been filed and accepted according to the procedure.
At the very end of COGAT’s allotted 120 days of extension permitted under the FOIA, the response (Hebrew) we received made no reference to the main part of our request and the information it did provide was incomplete and referred to figures that were irrelevant to the questions asked. While the request asked for information about applications filed according to the procedure alone, COGAT’s response included irrelevant figures on applications for changes of address filed as part of the political gesture to the Palestinian Authority. It should be noted that the procedure relates to applications made by individuals living in the Gaza Strip to move to the West Bank, whereas a change of address under the diplomatic gesture is designed for people who already live in the West Bank and wish to change the address in their ID card accordingly. While the procedure is dated March 2009, COGAT provided information dating back to 2006. The partial and incomprehensible information received fails to answer the questions addressed in our request.
We, therefore, sent COGAT a complaint letter on April 22, 2013, asking for the missing information and listing the shortcomings in its initial response. On June 27, 2013, we received a response (Hebrew) in which COGAT – much to our surprise – stated that due to a consultation held with the head of the Freedom of Information unit at the Ministry of Justice, Adv. Rivki Dabash, on June 12, 2013, this date and not the date of our previous request should be regarded as the day on which processing of the application commenced. Needless to say, the decision to turn back the clock on the schedule the FOIA stipulates for responding to an application is unlawful. Moreover, Adv. Dabash made it perfectly clear that the position taken by COGAT was never coordinated with her and that it was presented to Gisha without her authorization.
Thus, more than seven months after the FOIA was filed, no real answers have been provided to us. Left with no other choice, Gisha filed a petition under the Freedom of Information Act to the Tel Aviv Court for Administrative Affairs in order to compel COGAT to provide a relevant response to the application.
To read the petition (Hebrew)