Judge Ruth Ronnen
Judge Ruth Ronnen Photo by Moti Kimche
Text size

The Tel Aviv District Court last week ordered the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories to release internal documents that detail the minimum nutritional requirements and calorie calculations needed to sustain the residents of the Gaza Strip.

In addition, the court ordered the agency, also called COGAT and which operates under the auspices of the Defense Ministry, to reveal the names of the officials who helped implement the policy of limiting the entry of goods and foodstuffs into the Gaza Strip.

The documents still have not been uncovered while the Defense Ministry decides whether it will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Tel Aviv District Court Judge Ruth Ronnen's directive represents the latest stage in a legal battle being waged by the non-government organization Gisha, a group dedicated to advancing freedom of movement for Palestinians.

In October 2009, Gisha filed a petition under the Freedom of Information Act, requesting that the state release documents related to its closure policy in the Gaza Strip. The group turned to the court after it directly requested the data from the Defense Ministry, which refused to provide it.

One year after the petition was filed, the state agreed to release three documents related to its Gaza policy. According to these documents, COGAT officers relied on mathematic formulas which computed minimum nutritional requirements that would meet the basic needs of Gaza residents.

Based on these formulas, the state determined the amount and volume of goods that were permitted to enter the Strip.

This policy was first instituted by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, his deputy, Matan Vilnai, and the acting head of COGAT at the time, Amos Gilad, in June 2007, shortly after Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip.

COGAT, however, refused to publicize the names and job titles of those who implemented the policy. In addition, it balked at requests to hand over the "Red Lines" document, a position paper whose existence was first discovered by Haaretz reporters Uri Blau and Yotam Feldman in June 2009.

The Defense Ministry claimed that the document was drawn up for internal use only and that it did not serve as the basis for forming policy. Ministry officials also claimed that the documents that were unveiled were handed over after the policy was altered. But the court disagreed.

Israel lifted numerous restrictions on the entry of goods into Gaza following last year's raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.

According to the ministry, as long as the policy in question was in force, the release of the documents would constitute harming national security and Israel's foreign relations. The ministry also refused to release the "Red Lines" paper, claiming that the law grants immunity to officials in sensitive positions.

In her decision to have the information finally let into the light, Ronnen rejected the state's assertion that it could not hand over the documents since they were in draft form.

The judge also determined that the Defense Ministry did not adequately explain why the information contained in the documents was of a sensitive nature.

"The obligation to explain is one of the duties to which the authorities are bound when they refuse a request to reveal information," the judge wrote. "If the state would have made clear the reasons for the sensitivity of the information, which data are sensitive, the court would have taken this explanation into consideration."

Ronnen said that the Freedom of Information Act explicitly states that the public has an interest in obtaining information that bears a direct impact on its safety.

The judge did agree with the Defense Ministry's position that it is not obligated to reveal documents pertaining to its present-day policies.

On Monday, COGAT officials requested against an injunction of the court's order to release the Red Lines presentation pending a decision on whether to appeal.