State appeals order to release minimum Gaza food info

Defense Ministry claims exposing "red lines document” that outlines caloric intake will have chilling effect on internal deliberations.

By RON FRIEDMAN
May 1, 2011 19:40
3 minute read.
Gaza bound truck

311_Gaza crossing. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))

 
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The state submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court Thursday over the Tel Aviv District Court’s ruling in March that ordered the Defense Ministry to reveal the “red lines document,” in which the state quantified the minimum caloric intake required for the residents of the Gaza Strip.

The district court determined that the Freedom of Information Law required the ministry to provide the information to human rights group Gisha, despite the fact that the ministry said the document was only a draft and did not reflect the state’s practices.

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The precise contents of the document are unknown, but it is believed to contain a formula by which the Defense Ministry calculated the minimum amount of food needed to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. The document was part of a presentation shown to Defense Ministry officials before the government last summer began letting more goods enter Gaza, and according to the ministry, it was never implemented.

Gisha: The Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, which filed the request for information in October 2010, said that though the state provided most of the information it requested, without the red lines document, critical information was missing that would allow a determination of how the government established the minimal food requirements it would allow Gazans to buy.

The state argued in the appeal that the harm that would be caused by exposing the “sensitive information” in the document outweighed the benefit of making it public. The appeal further stated that the district court erred in ruling for transparency, claiming that an exemption to the Freedom of Information Law – dealing with information discussed in internal administrative deliberations – was applicable in this case.

“The lower court’s ruling will have a chilling effect and make it more difficult for the state to determine policies on sensitive issues in the future,” read the appeal.

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The state claimed that if officials knew that what they said in internal discussions would be made public, they would be less likely to voice their opinions.

The law states that a public official is exempt from passing on information that relates to internal deliberations or consultations between public authority officials or in cases of drafts, opinions, advice or recommendations.

“The presentation clearly falls under the exemption to the law. The presentation expresses a single opinion or recommendation, presenting a specific model, that would possibly lead to determining policy in regards to the Gaza Strip,” read the appeal. “At the end of the day, this model (or proposal) was not implemented and therefore the proposal remained as a mere draft.”

In its initial response to the request for information, the state had argued that doing so would harm state security and foreign relations. The lower court judge, who received a copy of the document in a sealed envelope, rejected the state’s position, ruling that the public would benefit from seeing the document as it pertains to public health and safety.

“The petition sought to dispel the secrecy surrounding the procedures and criteria according to which Israel decides which goods can enter the Gaza Strip, and compel the state to publicize these criteria as required by Israeli law. Gisha’s goal was to increase transparency of government policy, allow public review of government conduct, and promote respect for human rights and the rule of law,” Gisha wrote in a statement.

“The documents that were revealed indicate that the state imposed limitations on the amount and variety of foodstuff it would allow into Gaza, allegedly to pressure the Hamas leadership.

Even though the policy changed following the Turkish flotilla [in May 2010], the state continues to prevent Gaza residents from importing building materials, exporting goods for marketing outside of Gaza, and free movement between Gaza and the West Bank,” according to Gisha.

“It is not clear why the state insists on concealing from public view the documents upon which the Gaza closure policy was based. It cannot be understood as anything but an attempt to avoid embarrassment likely to result from revealing details of a policy that restricted food products and other civilian goods that pose no security risk.”

- Link to Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement: http://www.gisha.org/
- Link to the World Health Organization’s reports on Gaza and the West Bank: http://www.who.int/hac/crises/international/wbgs/en/

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