By Amira Hass, Haaretz – 7 May 2010
The Defense Ministry is refusing – on security grounds, it says – to reveal why Israel prohibits the import into the Gaza Strip of items such as cilantro, sage, jam, chocolate, french fries, dried fruit, fabrics, notebooks empty flowerpots and toys, while allowing cinnamon, plastic buckets and combs.
But in its response to a freedom-of-information suit last week, the state did admit, for the first time, that there is specific list of permissible goods.
The suit, filed in the Tel Aviv administrative court by Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, sought to clarify the criteria and procedures the authorities use to determine what goods to allow into Gaza. It was filed after Gazans began claiming that commercial interests inside Israel, and their lobbying power, were determining the permitted items.
In its response, the state “apologized to the court and the plaintiff for inaccuracies presented during oral arguments [in January], due to certain misunderstandings.” The inaccuracy in question was its denial of the existence of written directives.
The response included two documents that the state termed drafts that are already being used in practice – one titled “Procedure for Permitting the Entry of Goods into Gaza” and one titled “Procedure for Tracking and Estimating Inventories in Gaza.” The latter is supposed to warn of existing or likely shortages.
The state also submitted a third document, a “List of Critical Humanitarian Goods for the Population,” whose existence it had previously denied. This list is periodically updated, it said.
A fourth document, called “Foodstuffs Consumption in Gaza – Red Lines,” is a draft for internal use only, the state said, “and has never served as a basis for decision-making.” Haaretz reporters Uri Blau and Yotam Feldman revealed the existence of this document in a June 2009 investigative report. It apparently determines the minimum nutritional needs of Gaza’s population, according to caloric intake and grams of food, parsed by age and gender.
The state seeks to deny Gisha’s suit on the grounds that revealing the first three documents would “harm national security and possibly even diplomatic relations.” And since the fourth is not a basis for policy, there is no need to reveal it, the state argued.
Gisha filed its response with the court yesterday, in which it reiterated its demand for any documents that determine the goods transfer policy. “It is difficult to imagine how publishing a list of products, such as medications, foodstuffs and hygiene products, or revealing the procedures that determine this list, could harm state security,” wrote attorney Tamar Feldman.