Gisha responds to a State submission in its Freedom of Information Act petition: How Will Disclosing Whether Coriander Is or Isn’t Allowed into the Gaza Strip Harm Israel’s National Security?

• In a court submission, the State of Israel admits that, contrary to its previous claims, it does indeed possess documents related to its policy on the transfer of goods into the Gaza Strip, including a list of "permitted" goods.
• However, the State claims for the first time that it can not reveal the documents, out of concern that allowing the public to review them would harm Israel’s national security and foreign relations.
• Israel admits the existence of a "Red Lines" document that establishes the minimum nutritional requirements for residents of Gaza, but refuses to reveal it.

Thur., May 6, 2010 – After 12 months of unsuccessful attempts by Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement to obtain documentation from the Israeli authorities about Israel’s policy concerning the entry of food and other goods into the Gaza Strip, and after claiming for many months that no such documents exist, Israel has finally admitted that it does indeed possess the information requested by Gisha, including a list of goods whose admission into the Gaza Strip is permitted. Following a petition submitted by Gisha under the Freedom of Information Act, and as a result of the Tel Aviv District Court’s rejection of the State’s claim that it had already provided all relevant information, the State last week submitted its response to the court. In this response the State apologized for "inaccurate statements made to the court", that it claimed were the result of a misunderstanding and admitted to the existence of four primary documents. Following this admission, however, the State refused to disclose the contents of the documents. It argued that, despite not previously raising such an objection, disclosure of the documents "…would harm national security and foreign relations". Gisha today filed its response to the court.

The documents whose existence the State now confirms are: (1) "The procedure for admitting goods into the Gaza Strip," which regulates the processing of requests for transfer of goods to Gaza and updates of the list of products allowed into the Gaza Strip, (2) "The procedure for monitoring and assessing supply in the Gaza Strip" a document which regulates the monitoring of the level of supply of goods in Gaza to prevent shortages, (3) "A list of humanitarian products approved for admission into the Gaza Strip" which outlines the products which may be transferred to Gaza, and (4) a presentationcalled "Food Needs in Gaza – Red Lines," a document that reportedly establishes the minimal nutritional requirements for the subsistence of the residents of the Gaza Strip. This document purportedly contains detailed tables of the number of grams and calories of each kind of food each resident should be permitted to consume, broken down by age and sex, apparently in order to establish a minimal threshold for restrictions on the admission of goods.

Regarding the first three documents, the State relied on an exception in the Freedom of Information Act to argue that it is concerned that harm would be done to Israel’s national security or its foreign relations if these working documents are revealed. The State refused to explain why revealing the documents would harm national security, arguing that the facts and reasons are so confidential that it could only present them to the court on an ex parte basis, i.e. in a closed hearing without the presence of Gisha’s lawyers. In relation to the "Red Lines" document, the State argued that it is not required to disclose it under the Freedom of Information Act because it is a draft document that does not serve as the basis for policy. However, this argument does not provide an answer to the question of how Israel manages to "provide effective warning of expected shortages" of goods in Gaza while continuing to insist that there is no working document that defines the minimum required quantities?

"It is not clear why Israel, instead of promoting transparency, chooses to invest so many resources in the attempt to conceal information", said Adv. Tamar Feldman of Gisha, who wrote the petition. "How is the disclosure that Israel forbids the entry of sage and ginger, yet allows in cinnamon, related to security needs? It is also hard to imagine how disclosing this information would harm Israel’s foreign relations, unless the State is equating fear of harm to Israel’s image with fear of harm to its foreign relations".

In the petition submitted by Gisha, the Ministry of Defense and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories were asked to answer very basic questions about Israel’s policy concerning the entry of food and other vital goods into the Gaza Strip, a policy that is shrouded in thick haze that obscures the State’s procedures. So, for example,it is not clear why Israel refuses to allow into Gaza products such as cans, which would allow farmers in Gaza to preserve and market their tomatoes, yet permits the transfer of packaged tomato paste manufactured in Israel. Nor is it clear how the decision to ban the import of other raw materials for industry such as industrial salt or large blocks of margarineare related to the security needs which are supposed to inform the policy for the crossings into the Gaza Strip.