Transparency and the Closure of Gaza
Sari Bashi is the Executive Director of Gisha, an Israeli NGO that protects the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents.
While many in the international community were unsure how to interpret Richard Goldstone’s Washington Post op ed earlier this month withdrawing the allegation made in the Goldstone Report that Israel intentionally targeted civilians during the war in Gaza, within Israel, the response was swift: the government declared a complete exoneration from all wrong-doing during the war, and hawkish lawmakers renewed their campaign against human rights organizations within Israel, blaming us for providing information to the Goldstone Report and for criticizing Israel’s conduct during the war.
Meanwhile, the District Court in Tel Aviv offered a different message, one in favor of transparency and public debate of Israel’s policy regarding Gaza: It ruled in favor of Gisha, the Israeli human rights organization that has been trying since April 2009 to obtain documents under the Freedom of Information Act relating to the closure of Gaza. The judgment (Hebrew only) notes the importance of transparency in a democratic country and dismisses claims that it would harm Israeli security to reveal what is certainly an embarrassing policy but one that has little to do with weapons or specialized defense systems. The court ordered the Defense Ministry to undo its redaction identifying the officials in charge of the policy and to release the “Red Lines” document purportedly used to calculate how much food should be permitted to enter Gaza under the policy in place from June 2007 to June 2010.
Yesterday, we at Gisha received the un-redacted documents showing that approval by the most senior generals in the Israeli military was necessary to add an item to the narrow list of goods permitted into Gaza prior to June 2010 (General, I know cinnamon has been cleared, but have you evaluated the security risk emanating from ginger?). We await the Red Lines document, which the state is withholding while it decides whether it will appeal to the Supreme Court. We will have to submit a new request in order to get the documents related to the current closure policy, which mostly bans construction materials, export, and the movement of persons.
So what does this have to do with Goldstone’s retraction? Well, it turns out that asking questions and publishing information is actually a pretty useful way of promoting an informed public debate – within Israel and outside it – about policies toward Gaza. Goldstone himself said that he changed his mind about the allegation of intentional killing of civilians in response to investigations that Israel conducted in response to pressure created by the Goldstone Report. The Israeli government changed its mind about the closure following a lively debate, sparked by the flotilla incident, about the security necessity of banning coriander and industrial-sized margarine from reaching Gaza.
We at Gisha will keep trying to obtain and publish information about access policies into and out of Gaza, in the belief that transparency is not a bad check on policy-makers who have a tendency to forget the law and also – common sense.