Freedom of Information Law:
Supreme Court orders Civil Administration to compensate Regavim

Supreme Court makes clear Civil Administration, in charge of administration and law enforcement in Judea and Samaria, is not above the law.

Mordechai Sones,

Civil Administration preparing for demolition
Civil Administration preparing for demolition
Flash 90

Israel's Freedom of Information Law was passed over 20 years ago and ever since, all public institutions are required to provide information in a timely and appropriate manner to all citizens who request it. But what about data regarding Judea and Samaria? These areas are administered by an IDF arm known as the Civil Administration.

In 2006, then-Attorney General Menachem "Meni" Mazuz issued a directive requiring the Civil Administration to abide by the Freedom of Information Law, as do all other public institutions. This week, Meni Mazuz - now a Supreme Court justice, reprimanded the Civil Administration for its failure to comply with this directive, effectively placing itself above the law.

A Freedom of Information request was submitted almost a year-and-a-half ago by the Regavim Movement, a public research and lobbying organization that documents and prosecutes illegal use of state land, only one of many such petitions Regavim has submitted since its founding thirteen years ago.

Regavim has repeatedly claimed that the Civil Administration, required by a directive issued by Attorney General Meni Mazuz in 2006 to comply with the law despite the fact that it is an arm of the military, consistently attempts to evade releasing data, either by delaying its response in violation of the Freedom of Information Act or by ignoring requests altogether.

Last year, Regavim submitted a request for computerized data "layers" for 2018. This data would enable the NGO to determine whether specific Arab construction projects were conducted legally, or, alternatively, whether demolition procedures were initiated.

The Civil Administration did not provide the data. By law, public institutions are required to respond within 120 days. Several months later, Regavim petitioned the Supreme Court to require the Civil Administration to comply. Only days before Regavim's petition on the matter was scheduled for a Supreme Court hearing – nine months after the petition was filed - the Civil Administration informed Regavim it was prepared to supply some requested geographical information, but at the same time declared the Civil Administration to be not bound by all requirements in the Freedom of Information Law, but only by its basic principles.

"With this statement, the Civil Administration effectively takes on a new role: Interpreter of law, one step above the Attorney General," said a Regavim Spokeswoman.

Supreme Court Justices Yael Vilner, Ofer Groskopf, and Meni Mazuz were scheduled to hear Regavim's petition this past Wednesday, but the Civil Administration's response effectively cancelled a full hearing of arguments. Nonetheless, Justice Meni Mazuz reprimanded the Justice Ministry attorney representing the Civil Administration, Ranad Eid. "Had you responded [to the original Freedom of Information request] that it would take time to formulate your response, or that this request was particularly complex, it would have sufficed – but you did not do so," Mazuz lambasted the Civil Administration. "Furthermore, your response to this [Supreme Court] petition was submitted only nine months after the petition was filed."

The final decision on Regavim's petition: "In light of the response provided by the respondent [the Civil Administration] to the appellant [Regavim], albeit after a significant delay, the petition in its present form is no longer relevant. The Civil Administration will pay Regavim legal expenses in the sum of NIS 10,000."

Regavim's Attorney Boaz Arzi responded: "Although it took far too long, after a year-and-a-half we finally received the data we needed – but through legal petition, not through the Freedom of Information process. Regavim is considering submitting a new petition against the Civil Administration's interpretation of its obligations - or more precisely, its presumptive lack of obligation - under the Freedom of Information Law, an interpretation that contradicts the Attorney General's directive."

The Civil Administration's official response: "We will study this case and draw conclusions to improve our responsiveness to the public."