Gaza – continued, still

The Israeli human rights organization GISHA sent around an email Tuesday stating that “In response to the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s statement that those seeking to send humanitarian assistance to Gaza by ship should transfer the goods via Israel ‘in accordance with procedure’: Gisha notes that despite a Freedom of Information Act petition pending in the Tel Aviv District Court, Israel refuses to reveal even the simplest procedures regarding how to transfer goods into Gaza, including which goods are permitted or banned. Since 2007, Israel has restricted the entrance of civilian goods into Gaza, as part of a policy of collective punishment … For more information about Israel ‘s policy restricting goods into Gaza and Gisha’s Freedom of Information Act petition, see: here.

The GISHA statement was responding to an article published in Haaretz on Monday, written by Jack Khoury + Barak Ravid, reported on Monday that “The director of European affairs for the Foreign Ministry, Naor Gilon, met separately with envoys from Turkey, Greece, Ireland and Sweden to convey the message that any of their citizens intending to set sail for Gaza would be stopped before they could reach the coastal territory. Describing such mission as provocative and in violation of Israeli law, Gilon told the diplomats: ‘Israel has not intention of allowing these sailboats in Gaza’. The Foreign Ministry message essentially entails that anybody who tries to sail to Gaza with aid, or who tries to transfer goods into the Hamas-ruled territory, must do so in accordance with procedure. The diplomats promised to pass the message along to the appropriate sources, said the Foreign Ministry, with some even offering to help prevent their citizens from attempting the mission”. This is published here.

UPDATE: The Irish Times has published a bit more information on this meeting in an article authored by Israeli journalist Mark Weiss, who says that “IRELAND’S AMBASSADOR to Israel has urged the Israeli authorities to take every precaution to ensure the safety of Irish citizens travelling aboard aid boats heading for Gaza. The plea from ambassador Briefne O’Reilly came during a meeting at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem on Monday where he was informed by the ministry’s director of European affairs, Naor Gilon, that Irish peace activists, together with other European participants in the ‘freedom flotilla’, will be turned back by Israeli naval patrols before they reach the shores of Gaza. ‘We are closely monitoring the situation and urge restraint on all sides’, Mr O’Reilly said. ‘We need to avoid escalation or confrontation to ensure a peaceful outcome which will enable the safe delivery of these humanitarian supplies’ … …Mr Gilon condemned the latest attempt to bypass Israel’s blockade on Gaza as ‘a provocation and a breach of Israeli law’. Activists aboard the [Irish-registered] 1,200-ton cargo ship Rachel Corrie, named after an American who was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, have vowed to defy the Israeli blockade.” This can be read in full here.

Some eight other ships are about to set sail from Greece and Turkey, and all plan to rendez-vous somewhere in the Mediterranean before proceeding towards Gaza.

[By the way, another report in Haaretz said that “Israeli security forces on Monday released a Turkish national arrested this month allegedly belonging to an outlawed Islamic group, and were set to deport him later in the day”. The “outlawed Islamic group” is the Turkish relief organization IHH, which is taking a major part in preparations — in conjunction with the Free Gaza organization that undertook eight previous expeditions to Gaza by sea, with mixed results, between August 2008 and June 2008 — for the Freedom Flotilla expedition that now says it will not be deterred from reaching Gaza by the end of this month. This Haaretz report is posted here.]

GISHA led a group of nine or ten Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations in a challenge of the Israeli government’s tacit authorization of tightened sanctions against the Gaza Strip that went into effect at the end of October 2007, just over three months after Hamas routed Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces and became the de facto authority in Gaza.

The Israeli military is administering these sanctions without any effective political oversight or transparency, other than a promise extracted by the Israeli Supreme Court to avoid a “humanitarian crisis” in the Gaza Strip, where 1.5 million Palestinians (half of whom are children, and half of whom are also refugees) are trapped in one of the most densely-populated strips of land on earth. With this military undertaking — to avoid a “humanitarian crisis” — the Court permitted all envisaged sanctions to proceed on 28 January 2008.

The Ministry of Defense put the sanctions into the hands of a department called COGAT — the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. (COGAT — as we have seen in the case of the denial of entry of Noam Chomsky from Jordan to speak at Bir Zeit University, the preeminent Palestinian institution of higher education, near Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority — is also now in charge of quite a lot in the West Bank as well… and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is the ruler of the West Bank.)

On 27 December 2008, the IDF launched an unprecedented military attack in Gaza that lasted three terrible weeks. Since then, COGAT has allowed almost no building materials into the Gaza Strip to repair the tens of thousands of homes that were destroyed in Operation Cast Lead.

On 6 May, GISHA published a press release stating: “After 12 months of unsuccessful attempts by Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement – to obtain documentation from the Israeli authorities about Israel’s policy concerning the entry of food and other goods into the Gaza Strip, and after claiming for many months that no such documents exist, Israel has finally admitted that it does indeed possess the information requested by Gisha, including a list of goods whose admission into the Gaza Strip is permitted. Following a petition submitted by Gisha under the Freedom of Information Act, and as a result of the Tel Aviv District Court’s rejection of the State’s claim that it had already provided all relevant information, the State last week submitted its response to the court. In this response the State apologized for ‘inaccurate statements made to the court’, that it claimed were the result of a misunderstanding and admitted to the existence of four primary documents. Following this admission, however, the State refused to disclose the contents of the documents. It argued that, despite not previously raising such an objection, disclosure of the documents ‘…would harm national security and foreign relations’. Gisha today filed its response to the court. The documents whose existence the State now confirms are: (1) ‘The procedure for admitting goods into the Gaza Strip’, which regulates the processing of requests for transfer of goods to Gaza and updates of the list of products allowed into the Gaza Strip, (2) ‘The procedure for monitoring and assessing supply in the Gaza Strip’ a document which regulates the monitoring of the level of supply of goods in Gaza to prevent shortages, (3) ‘A list of humanitarian products approved for admission into the Gaza Strip’ which outlines the products which may be transferred to Gaza, and (4) a presentation called ‘Food Needs in Gaza – Red Lines’, a document that reportedly establishes the minimal nutritional requirements for the subsistence of the residents of the Gaza Strip. This document purportedly contains detailed tables of the number of grams and calories of each kind of food each resident should be permitted to consume, broken down by age and sex, apparently in order to establish a minimal threshold for restrictions on the admission of goods. Regarding the first three documents, the State relied on an exception in the Freedom of Information Act to argue that it is concerned that harm would be done to Israel’s national security or its foreign relations if these working documents are revealed. The State refused to explain why revealing the documents would harm national security, arguing that the facts and reasons are so confidential that it could only present them to the court on an ex parte basis, i.e. in a closed hearing without the presence of Gisha’s lawyers. In relation to the ‘Red Lines’ document, the State argued that it is not required to disclose it under the Freedom of Information Act because it is a draft document that does not serve as the basis for policy. However, this argument does not provide an answer to the question of how Israel manages to ‘provide effective warning of expected shortages’ of goods in Gaza while continuing to insist that there is no working document that defines the minimum required quantities? ‘It is not clear why Israel, instead of promoting transparency, chooses to invest so many resources in the attempt to conceal information’, said Adv. Tamar Feldman of Gisha, who wrote the petition. ‘How is the disclosure that Israel forbids the entry of sage and ginger, yet allows in cinnamon, related to security needs? It is also hard to imagine how disclosing this information would harm Israel’s foreign relations, unless the State is equating fear of harm to Israel’s image with fear of harm to its foreign relations’. In the petition submitted by Gisha, the Ministry of Defense and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories were asked to answer very basic questions about Israel’s policy concerning the entry of food and other vital goods into the Gaza Strip, a policy that is shrouded in thick haze that obscures the State’s procedures. So, for example,it is not clear why Israel refuses to allow into Gaza products such as cans, which would allow farmers in Gaza to preserve and market their tomatoes, yet permits the transfer of packaged tomato paste manufactured in Israel. Nor is it clear how the decision to ban the import of other raw materials for industry such as industrial salt or large blocks of margarine are related to the security needs which are supposed to inform the policy for the crossings into the Gaza Strip”…

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