Gisha prevails in Freedom of Information petition

The Defense Ministry must reveal the “red lines document” in which the state apparently established the minimum caloric intake required for the survival of residents of the Gaza Strip.

• The court also demanded that the Defense Ministry reveal the names and positions of the officials enforcing the closure of Gaza, which were blacked out in the documents previously provided to Gisha.

• In a two-year-long legal proceeding, Gisha managed to reveal additional documents connected with the closure policy: the procedure for monitoring and assessing inventories in the Gaza Strip, the procedure for approving transfer of goods into the Gaza Strip and the list of humanitarian products whose transfer into the Gaza Strip is permitted.

Wed., March 30, 2011 – Last Wednesday, March 23, 2011, the Tel Aviv Administrative Court ruled that the Defense Ministry must immediately provide Gisha with the “red lines document” and reveal the names of the officials enforcing the closure. It also ruled that the ministry must refund the organization for legal expenses in the amount of 12,000 NIS.

On October 28, 2009, Gisha petitioned the court under the Freedom of Information Act, requesting that the Defense Ministry and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) disclose their policy pertaining to the transfer of civilian goods to the Gaza Strip. The petition sought to dispel the secrecy surrounding the procedures and criteria according to which Israel decides which goods can enter the Gaza Strip, and compel the state to publicize these criteria as required by Israeli law. Gisha’s goal was to increase transparency of government policy, allow public review of government conduct, and promote respect for human rights and the rule of law.

During the proceedings on the petition, Gisha succeeded in revealing many documents related to the closure policy, including:

1. The procedure for monitoring and assessing inventories in the Gaza Strip. The procedure includes a reference to a “lower warning line” to give advance notice of expected shortages of a particular product and an “upper warning line”, above which entry of certain goods into the Gaza Strip could be blocked. This procedure reveals that the state approved a “policy of deliberate restriction” of basic goods in the Gaza Strip (section h4, p. 5). So, for example, the state restricted the supply of industrial diesel required for the Gaza power plant, thereby significantly impairing the supply of electricity and water.

2. The procedure for approving transfer of goods into the Gaza Strip. This procedure specifies the guiding considerations, rules and methods according to which permission was given for goods to enter Gaza. Among other things, this procedure said that the list of permitted goods is confidential and must not be revealed, and included a reference to the centrality of the definition of a product as “luxury” in the decision of whether or not to approve its entry.

3. A list of humanitarian products whose transfer into the Gaza Strip is permitted as of May 30, 2010.

The points that remained in dispute even after the aforementioned documents were revealed were the requests to disclose the names and positions that were blacked out in the documents, to publish the “red lines document” and reveal all of the documents concerning the current closure policy in the Gaza Strip. Judge Ruth Ronen ruled last week that Gisha must be provided with the “red lines document” immediately and that the list of officials must be revealed. The judge also ruled that the Defense Ministry must refund the organization for legal expenses in the amount of NIS 12,000. However, the judge also ruled that for additional documents concerning this issue a separate application must be made, and at the same time indicated that the Defense Ministry should not drag its feet in responding.

Adv. Tamar Feldman of Gisha: “This is a victory for transparency over the obscurity with which the Gaza closure policy has been handled for several years. The court ruled explicitly that information cannot be hidden from the public on general and vague security grounds, especially when weighed against the substantial public interest in revealing the information, as in this case”.