At Gisha’s Request: Court to Address Why Defense Ministry Refuses to Reveal Information on Gaza Access Policy

Tomorrow, Thur., January 21, at 9 am: the Tel Aviv District Court will hold a hearing in a petition filed by Gisha under the Freedom of Information Act
• The petition was filed following six months of attempts to obtain information relating to restrictions on the transfer of food and other goods to the Gaza Strip.
• The Ministry of Defense and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories refuse to reveal documents and procedures without offering any explanation.
• It is unclear why Israel allows flour to be transferred to Gaza but not vinegar or coriander, and what any of these restrictions have to do with security.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 – The Administrative Affairs Court in Tel Aviv will hold a hearing tomorrow, Thursday January 21, 2010, at 9 am, in a petition based on the Freedom on Information Act filed by Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement requesting that the Ministry of Defense and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) reveal their policies relating to the entry of food and other goods to the Gaza Strip.
The petition was filed following six months of attempts by Gisha – all of them unsuccessful – to find answers to the most basic questions from the authorities – information which they are obligated by law to reveal: what are the goods that are permitted or prohibited for entry into Gaza? What are the criteria for defining goods as "humanitarian"? And what are the procedures that guide COGAT’s activities? For example, it is unclear why Israel allows flour into Gaza but does not allow the transfer of vinegar or coriander. It is also unclear why Israel suddenly allowed diapers, mops, black pepper, and za’atar herb into Gaza two months ago, following intermittent bans. Nor is it clear how preventing shoes and children’s toys from entering Gaza enhances Israel’s security.
COGAT’s and the Defense Ministry’s insistence on keeping the access policies shrouded in mystery is best demonstrated in the response which COGAT sent just one week prior to the hearing, a response which fails to address most of the questions submitted by Gisha six months earlier. One of the points ignored was the question of how COGAT manages to meet "minimum humanitarian needs" while simultaneously and continuously refusing to define what this minimum consists of. COGAT also refused to reveal the so-called "red lines document" which purportedly sets the nutritional minimum required for the subsistence of Gaza Strip residents and includes detailed tables with the number of grams and calories of each type of food that Gaza residents should be allowed to consume, according to age and sex. The very existence of the document is a source of grave concern, because it indicates a decision by the State of Israel to determine and implement policies which reduce human beings to a nutritional minimum.
"Lack of transparency, frequent changes to procedure and a maze of bureaucracy cast a fog over trade between Israel and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and create fertile ground for nepotism and corruption", Gisha’s Adv. Tamar Feldman wrote in the petition. "The absence of public oversight has paved the way for illegal activities by various businesspeople and agents, who are skimming big profits at the expense of traders on both sides".
Meanwhile, the haze obscuring most of the procedures and activities of the authorities in relation to the transfer of goods to the Gaza Strip seriously violates the most basic rights of 1.5 million Gaza Strip residents and makes the work of aid organizations trying to help them much more difficult, both logistically and financially.