Transparency and the Closure of Gaza

by Sari Bashi

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.

4 Responses

  1. Here’s “transparency in a democratic country,” U.S. Senate-style:
    This took place just before the Senate adjourned for a two-week-plus holiday this evening, after Senators spent the past week lolling about somewhere waiting to be told when to come to the floor to rubberstamp a privately-arranged “deal” to finance the federal government for the rest of the year.  (A deal whose construction was outsourced to  unseen non-legislators, plus Boehner and Reid for appearance’s sake, and to which not a single amendment in the House or Senate was entertained from any member.  The deal includes a total, government-wide, this time, funding ban to prevent the transfer of any Guantanamo prisoner to the U.S. mainland.)
    Harry Reid, in the midst of offering a slew of feel-good, meaningless measures just before adjournment in an empty Chamber, suddenly requested unanimous consent for the immediate consideration and passage, without debate or amendment, of a Senate resolution about the Goldstone Report.
    The only information I have about this Resolution is the summary read off by the Senate Clerk, which I heard as the Senate asking the United Nations to “withdraw the Goldstone Report.” An objection from just one of our 100 Senators would have blocked the Resolution – one objection was not heard.  The Resolution was thus adopted in the Senate by unanimous consent on April 14, with no debate, just ahead of a Resolution (presumably in the order in which AIPAC submitted both of them to Majority Leader Reid) giving permission to use some part of the Capitol grounds for a Holocaust ceremony.
    Because it’s a given that the German/European Holocaust justifies anything and everything that Israel does today to snuff out the lives of non-Jews, or at least of non-Jew Arabs and Muslims.  Just ask the paragons of virtue known as American Senators – once you’ve ponied up enough cash to briefly get close enough to one of them to ask how they live with a “morality” that decrees that evil shall be done that good may come of it.

  2. Just a simple thought – if those folks in Gaza would not fire shells at school buses or target civilian areas maybe the Isrealis would not treat them so harshly.

  3. Terry, I think this is very thoughtful and takes into account the whole of the situation as well as the plight of both populations involved. Thanks.

  4. 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.

    I think this is quite sensible. In retrospect, it sounds like Goldstone would have followed this sensible advice.

    Unfortunately, although you may have forgotten this already, Goldstone passed over the approach of asking questions in favour of jumping to conclusions of criminal guilt based on the absence of clearly exculpatory evidence… an unusual and imho highly undesirable perversion of the normal rules of criminal procedure!

    That may explain some of the outcry…

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