Court dismisses Gisha’s petition to expose information missing from COGAT documents on criteria for travel of Palestinians from Gaza during the years 2007-2008

January 21, 2003. The Tel Aviv District Court has exempted the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) from searching for documents related to permission for travel of Palestinian residents from the Gaza Strip between the 2007 and 2008.

Almost two years ago, on February 10, 2011, Gisha filed a petition (Hebrew) under the Freedom of Information Act 5758-1998 along with HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (AP 22775-02-11). The organizations petitioned for disclosure of the guidelines and criteria for permitting Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip to exit through the Erez crossing that have been in use since 2005.

It was only after the petition was filed that COGAT exposed the document entitled Policy on Movement of People between the State of Israel and the Gaza Strip. COGAT also sent three thick binders that contained the requested information for the period beginning January 2009 and ending April 2011, as well as a number of individual documents from 2006 and 2008.

However, the state failed to deliver any documents that might shed light on COGAT’s policy with respect to travel between Israel and the Gaza Strip between 2007 and 2008. Dozens of “closure permission status documents” that contained weekly instructions on travel via the Erez crossing and were circulated to military officials every week or two vanished into thin air. According to counsel for the respondents, the black hole in COGAT’s archive was partly the result of a technical glitch in the computer system which caused files to be erased.

COGAT’s office claimed that the guidelines were no longer in its possession and that “it may be possible that these guidelines were deliberately not put in writing or documented”. Counsel for the respondents further noted that “this was the time when Gilad Shalit was kidnapped and Operation Cast Lead took place. It is possible that the fact that a void was created during this specific time is not coincidental”.

In the judgment delivered on January 13 2013, Justice Miriam Diskin dismissed the petitioners’ motion to examine Lieutenant Colonel Azhar Ghanem, Head of Gaza DCO Operations, who declared that COGAT had no further relevant documents. Justice Diskin also exempted COGAT from searching for the missing documents (if they do exist), holding that “The respondents have provided the petitioner with all requested information in their possession and have no further documents”.

Related documents:
The judgment of January 13, 2013 (Hebrew)

Relevant documents:
A Guide to the Gaza Closure: In Israel’s Own Words – Info Sheet