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.
Judea and Samaria are administered by an arm of the IDF 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 and effectively placing itself above the law.
Almost a year and a half ago, the Regavim Movement, a public research and lobbying organization that documents and prosecutes illegal use of state land, submitted a Freedom of Information request. This was only one of many such petitions Regavim has submitted since its founding 13 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 Palestinian 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 of Justice to require the Civil Administration to comply. Only days before Regavim's petition on the matter was scheduled for a Supreme Court of Justice hearing – nine months after the petition was filed - the Civil Administration informed Regavim that it was prepared to supply some of the geographical information that had been requested, but at the same time declared that the Civil Administration is not bound by all of the requirements of 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.
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 Ministry of Justice 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 is particularly complex, it would have sufficed – but you did not do so," Mazuz lambasted the Civil Administration. "Furthermore, your response to this [Supreme Court of Justice] petition was only submitted 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 said, "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 in order to improve our responsiveness to the public."