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Why does Israel allow flour into the Gaza Strip but prohibit vinegar and coriander? Why did it suddenly drop the ban on the import of diapers, mops, black pepper and savory two months ago? How does preventing shoes and children's toys from entering Gaza enhance Israel's security? These are some of the questions which human rights organization Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement said on Wednesday it hopes to receive answers to in the wake of a decision on Thursday by the Tel Aviv District Court.
The court gave the state 30 days to produce documents requested by the petitioner under the Freedom of Information Act or to explain why it refused to do so.
In the petition, Gisha told the court it had written to Defense Minister Ehud Barak on April 22, 2009, asking which criteria were used to define humanitarian supplies, what were the regulations guiding the work of the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories and whether there were lists of commodities permitted or prohibited from export to Gaza.
Gisha charged that the Defense Ministry provided incomplete answers to its questions. On June 14 it presented a long list of questions and requested answers in accordance with the Freedom of Information Law.
Among the questions: What are humanitarian supplies? Are there criteria for determining what constitutes humanitarian supplies? Is there a list of commodities that are prohibited from entering Gaza? What are the regulations for examining requests to bring in supplies to Gaza? Gisha charged that the Defense Ministry gave it the run-around for several months and did not reply to the questions.
In one of its letters asking for a progress report from the Defense Ministry, Gisha also asked it to provide the so-called "red-lines" document, which allegedly determined the minimum nutrition level required to sustain the Palestinian population in Gaza and included detailed tables on the number of calories and grams of each type of food which should be made available to the Gaza residents according to age and sex.
Reports that such a "red-line" document existed first appeared in a newspaper report on June 15, 2009.
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After failing to receive a response to its questions, Gisha petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court in October to order the Defense Ministry to provide the information in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act.
The state finally replied to Gisha's questions on January 13. Regarding the "red lines" document, Guy Inbar, the spokesman of the Coordinator of Activities wrote, "There is no official red-lines document. Your request might refer to one of several drafts of internal staff memos written about this matter and regarding which there is no obligation by law to make them available. The office of the Coordinator of Activities examines the requirements of the Gaza population all the time."
The court found the state's response to the petition unsatisfactory and gave it 30 days to either produce the documents or explain why it refused to do so.
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