After one and a half years in which Israel at first denied their existence and then claimed that revealing them would harm “state security”, the State of Israel today released three documents that outline its policy for permitting transfer of goods into the Gaza Strip prior to the May 31 flotilla incident. The documents were released due to a Freedom of Information Act petition submitted by Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement in the Tel Aviv District Court, in which Gisha demanded transparency regarding the Gaza closure policy. Israel still refuses to release the current documents governing the closure policy as amended after the flotilla incident.
“Policy of Deliberate Reduction”
The documents reveal that the state approved “a policy of deliberate reduction” for basic goods in the Gaza Strip. Thus, for example, Israel restricted the supply of fuel needed for the power plant, disrupting the supply of electricity and water. The state set a “lower warning line” to give advance warning of expected shortages in a particular item, but at the same time approved ignoring that warning, if the good in question was subject to a policy of “deliberate reduction”. Moreover, the state set an “upper red line” above which even basic humanitarian items could be blocked, even if they were in demand. The state claimed in a cover letter to Gisha that in practice, it had not authorized reduction of “basic goods” below the “lower warning line”, but it did not define what these “basic goods” were.
“Luxuries” denied for Gaza Strip residents
In violation of international law, which allows Israel to restrict the passage of goods only for concrete security reasons, the decision whether to permit or prohibit an item was also based on “the good’s public perception” and “whether it is viewed as a luxury”. In other words, items characterized as “luxury” items would be banned – even if they posed no security threat, and even if they were needed. Thus, items such as chocolate and paper were not on the “permitted” list. In addition, officials were to consider “sensitivity to the needs of the international community”.
Ban on Reconstructing Gaza
Although government officials have claimed that they will permit the rehabilitation of Gaza, the documents reveal that Israel treated rehabilitation and development of the Gaza Strip as a negative factor in determining whether to allow an item to enter; goods “of a rehabilitative character” required special permission. Thus, international organizations and Western governments did not receive permits to transfer building materials into Gaza for schools and homes.
Secret List of Goods
The procedures determine that the list of permitted goods “will not be released to those not specified!” (emphasis in original), ignoring the fact that without transparency, merchants in Gaza could not know what they were permitted to purchase. The list itemized permitted goods only. Items not on the list – cumin, for example – would require a special procedure for approval, irrespective of any security consideration, at the end of which it would be decided whether to let it in or not.
According to Gisha Director Sari Bashi: “Instead of considering security concerns, on the one hand, and the rights and needs of civilians living in Gaza, on the other, Israel banned glucose for biscuits and the fuel needed for regular supply of electricity – paralyzing normal life in Gaza and impairing the moral character of the State of Israel. I am sorry to say that major elements of this policy are still in place”.
To view the documents revealed today by the state (in Hebrew), click here (excerpted English translations will be available tonight).
To view the FOIA petition submitted by Gisha (in Hebrew), click here.
For translated excerpts of the state’s response initially refusing to reveal the documents, click here.
For an information sheet on the changes in the closure policy since the June 2010 cabinet decision, see: Unraveling the Closure of Gaza.