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World Press Freedom Review
2004 World Press Freedom Review
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict saw a resurgence of Israeli military power as Israeli death tolls sank whereas Palestinians death tolls rose during the past year. Israel's construction of the so-called "security barrier" in the West Bank, longer and taller than the Berlin Wall, along with continued closures, checkpoints, led to an exasperating, indeed unique lack of freedom of movement for Palestinian journalists. Ninety-nine per cent of the wall is built on Palestinian land. A 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice that the wall is illegal and should be torn down was ignored by Israel.
Even Palestinian journalists with Israeli citizenship suffered from severe discrimination and restriction of movement due to the reasserted dominance of Israeli security forces. Towards the end of the year, however, violence subsided somewhat as the Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, fell ill and died. Yet, the Israeli army-imposed closures and restrictions for journalists - Palestinian, Israeli, and foreign - and the violence with impunity against them all remained in place. One Palestinian journalist was shot dead by Israeli troops and many more were injured, some seriously, during the course of the year.
In early 2004, according to the rights group, I'lam, members of an Israeli special police unit harassed journalists who were reporting on the demolition of homes in the Israeli village of Ba'aneh, by forcing Arab journalists to present their Government Press Office (GPO) cards dozens of times. The Jewish journalists at the scene were not asked to present their cards. One of the police officers asked to see the press card of Ameen Basher, journalist at Sawt Al-Haq wal-Huriyya, and when he saw that the journalist worked for the paper, he mocked him, saying "Sawt Al-Haq, huh?" He added: "So you're from the Islamic movement." Basher replied in the affirmative, but before he could finish his sentence one of the members of the unit pushed him while another one beat him on his back and head. Naif Zidan, a colleague from the newspaper Panorama, fled to the nearby building of the local council before the policemen could get to him.
Elias Karam, a journalist and reporter with the newspaper Kul Al-Arab arrived to cover an event on 4 January attended by a senior Israeli figure, according to I'lam. After the standard security check, he was called into a separate room where he was asked by the guards to remove items of clothing and his shoes, despite the fact that he had been through a metal detector. Apparently, he was singled out due to his Arab ethnicity alone.
On 27 January, the Israeli state prosecutor's office issued an indictment, authorised by the attorney general, against the editor of the newspaper Sawt al-Haq wal-Huriyya ("Voice of Justice and Freedom"), Tawfiq Jabarin, and against the author of the column "Fi Dhilal Aya" ("Interpreting a Verse"), Sheikh Abd Al-Rahman Bakirat, on the basis of his interpretation of a verse from the Koran. The indictment was based on the offense of incitement to violence or terror in accordance with Article 144D2 of the penal code, 5737-1977. This was the first time that the amendment adding clause 144D2 had been applied; indeed, only a few days passed between the publication of the amendment in the official records and the publication that was the subject of this indictment. The indictment followed a protracted investigation by the police regarding the publication of the column. It was claimed that the article included praise, sympathy and encouragement for an act of violence or terror, and that, according to its content, there was a tangible possibility that it would lead to an act of violence or terror.
In February, three Palestinian journalists with Israeli citizenship - Tawfiq Jabarin, Salman Abu Abeid and Hussein Arshid were astonished to find out that the GPO had failed to issue them with accreditation, despite the fact that they had met all the relevant requirements. In response to the efforts by Tawfiq Jabarin to ascertain the reasons for this refusal, the chairperson of the GPO stated, "I have received instructions from the GSS [General Security Services] not to issue you with cards." Jabarin insisted that he be informed of the reasons for the refusal. The chairperson of the GPO contacted the GSS again, and received partial and unconvincing grounds for denying a card to the journalist. Accordingly, it was eventually decided that the journalists would be issued with temporary cards valid for three months, after which period these would become permanent unless clear and convincing reasons were offered by the GSS.
Also in February, Lutfi Mashour, editor of the Israeli Arabic-language Al-Sinara newspaper, was subjected to exceptional security checks at Ben Gurion airport by Israeli guards. Ben Gurion is already considered the most security-minded commercial airport in the world. Mashour had been invited to join Israeli President Katzav on a state visit to Paris. Mashour was the only Arab among the 35 journalists in the party, and he alone was asked to undergo such checks. He eventually refused to undergo the checks and thus became unable to join the flight. Following this incident, the attorney general instructed the government to send a letter of apology to Mashour.
On 9 March Israeli soldiers wounded Saif Dahla, a news photographer who works for Agence-France Presse (AFP). Witnesses said soldiers opened fire with machine-guns, killing a 23-year-old woman as she watched from the roof of her house in Jenin, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as tanks rolled into her neighbourhood. Dahla, who was standing next to the woman, was shot when a soldier in a tank about 20 meters away fired rounds from a machine gun. One of the bullets, or shrapnel, injured Dahla in his left leg. The injury was not life threatening. Dahla was covering an Israeli incursion into Jenin and was shot after a clash between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli soldiers had come to an end. Dahla's brother, Reuters photographer Said Dahla, and Reuters cameraman Ali Samoudi, witnessed the entire incident.
Both journalists said that all three journalists were clearly identifiable as members of the press, wearing flak jackets, helmets, and marked clothing. They also said that they had been working in the area for more than an hour, adding that the Israeli soldiers in the tank and in other vehicles had seen them working. According to the witnesses, when Dahla was shot, they rushed him into a nearby home, and an ambulance arrived later to take him to a local hospital. Both journalists said that as they were moving Dahla into the house, another burst of gunfire came from the tank.
On 22 March, the Board of the Foreign Press Association in Israel announced it was distressed to learn that fully accredited journalists were being barred from entering Gaza to cover the aftermath of the assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. While journalists with foreign passports were allowed entry across Erez after a few hours' delay, access for those with dual Israeli-foreign nationalities was denied. The FPA noted that this was a change of policy directed against journalists with dual nationalities, preventing the media from properly covering one of the most significant developments of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent months. The FPA called on the government and the Israeli army to end this restriction on the freedom of the media and to respect the rights of working journalists.
Journalist Mohammad Abu Halima was killed on 22 March while covering clashes at the Balata refugee camp in Nablus. Palestinian hospital and security sources said a bullet had apparently fatally wounded Abu Halima in the stomach. Eyewitnesses told RSF that Abu Halima was standing about 50 metres from an Israeli soldier who opened fire on him. He was reportedly standing in front of one of the Balata camp's main entrances and had a camera around his neck. No exchange of gunfire was heard at the time. Agence France-Presse reported that Israeli soldiers had opened fire against stone-throwing Palestinians. Halima, aged 22, had been working for several months as a volunteer for the An-Najah University's radio station in Nablus, where he was completing his journalism studies. He had been reporting live by telephone on the clashes at the Balata camp about 10 minutes before he was killed.
According to a CPJ source, Moaz Shraida, producer and host at the station who was speaking to the journalist moments before he was killed, Halima described three Israeli jeeps about a mile (1.6 kilometres) away from the camp's entrance, where he was standing. Shraida said that Abu Halima told him that he had begun to take photographs of the jeeps. Shraida said that he then heard gunfire and lost contact with Abu Halima. In a voicemail message to CPJ, a spokesman for the Israeli army, who identified himself as Sam Weiderman, said that "as far as we know, [Abu Halima] was not a journalist," that Abu Halima "was armed and he opened fire on [Israeli] forces," and that the Israeli army "returned fire."
On 2 April, Israeli policemen attacked Ammar Awad, a journalist working for Reuters. According to witnesses Ammar Awad was beaten up by about twelve policemen while he was covering a clash between Israeli police and Palestinian demonstrators at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The journalist was beaten so brutally that doctors advised him not to work for a week and to remain at home. The policemen also seized the identity documents of Awad and destroyed the journalist's camera and lenses. Israeli police had used rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades to disperse stone-throwers and had arrested 14 demonstrators after the Friday Muslim prayers. According to Reuters, dozens of people were wounded in the clash, including two journalists, aside from Awad.
On 21 April, Israeli documentary filmmaker David Benchetrit was brutally beaten right in front of the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv. At the time Benchetrit was working on a film about "refuseniks" - Israeli soldiers who, as conscientious objectors, refuse to serve in the Palestinian territories.
He was attacked on his way to a meeting with Defence Ministry spokesperson Ruth Yaron. The wife of David Benchetrit, Sini Bar David, said, "He was waiting on the sidewalk opposite the ministry when a security guard approached him and ordered him to identify himself, then struck him when he did not comply quickly enough." Three more security staff then appeared, handcuffed him, and hit him repeatedly with their fists and the butts of their guns. The guards may have taken him for an Arab, according to the filmmaker. Following the attack, Benchetrit was taken by ambulance to Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv, where surgeons found his right leg to be badly damaged. Doctors said he will not be able to walk again for six months, but were unable to comment immediately on the possibility of permanent disability.
More than three months later, Benchetrit still had great difficulty in walking and suffered from lingering effects caused by the blows to his head, including memory lapses and difficulties concentrating, according to RSF. The Paris-based organisation called for an official investigation into the incident. The Israeli Defence Minister, Shaul Mofaz, however, said he was sorry about the incident, but added that security forces had acted in a professional manner. Mofaz did not seem to deem an investigation necessary.
Ali Samoudi, a reporter and cameraman with Reuters and Al-Jazeera, was shot in the nose by an Israeli soldier on 24 April while he was covering an Israeli army incursion in Jenin. Samoudi told the International Middle East Media Center that soldiers fired at him although he had a "Press" sign on his chest and back. Samoudi said that soldiers apparently do not differentiate between journalists and other residents and just shoot at them indiscriminately and carelessly.
Describing the event, Samoudi said, "when the soldiers fired at me, I was with another Palestinian journalist, the area was filled with soldiers who could easily identify us as journalists, I had a helmet on my head and a vest with "Press" written on it in English. He added: "We thought the clashes ended, there was nobody in the streets, we ran towards the car evacuating dead bodies. We did not see any soldiers, but when we reached the car, the army came out of nowhere, opened fire and killed Mohammad Azzouqa, a child who was there, I thought that my 'press suit' would protect me, so I stayed there together with another journalist." Samoudi said that he is convinced that soldiers deliberately fired at him, since it was clearly obvious he was a journalist. Samoudi was also wounded in Jenin's refugee camp in September 2001.
In May, Elias Karam of Kul Al-Arab was again subjected to humiliating checks and searches, this time at President Katzav's residence, to which he had received an invitation. The journalist was forced to remove items of clothing. He presented his GPO card and pointed out that he was invited to the residence, but to no avail. After deciding that he would leave rather than accept such humiliation, the president's spokesperson hurriedly arrived on the scene and instructed the guards to allow him to enter.
Also in May, Rima Mustafa, a journalist working with the cable TV company, Hot, was detained at Kalandia checkpoint on her way to Jerusalem. She was held for two hours and obliged to suffer degrading comments from the soldiers on the scene.
On 2 May, Israeli helicopter gun-ships launched 3 missiles at offices of the local Al-Aqsa broadcasting station, believed to be close to Hamas, which are located on the top floor of an apartment building in the centre of Gaza City. Two of the missiles directly hit the offices of the station, whereas the third missile destroyed a part of the roof of the building. This attack caused severe damage to the station's offices, but no casualties were reported among its staff. 5 members of the staff left the building immediately after the first missile hit it. The windows of a number of flats in the building were destroyed. A number of Palestinian civilians were reported to be suffering from shock, but no other injuries were reported.
On 4 May Mohammad Bakri, whose film on Israel's 2002 assault on the Jenin refugee camp is banned in the Jewish state said he had rejected an offer to allow the documentary to air if some sensitive scenes were removed. Mohammad Bakri said he preferred viewers see his "Jenin, Jenin" in its entirety or not at all. The film was temporarily banned pending a ruling on an appeal to Israel's Supreme Court. "They gave me a compromise ... to cut some scenes from the film, and then they will allow the film. I refused this suggestion," the filmmaker told journalists. "I feel humiliated by this suggestion. I am not negotiating with anybody about my film, about my truths, about my point of view."
The Supreme Court said it had proposed negotiations on possibly "omitting a limited number of scenes and adding explanatory subtitles for other scenes" so the film could air. Bakri, whose film has been shown internationally, said he had not been told which scenes would have to be cut for the film to be shown. He urged the court to issue a final ruling now. "Give me a decision, an immediate one," he said.
The film quotes Jenin residents as saying troops committed war crimes during the prolonged assault - an accusation echoed by human rights groups. The Israeli government and military denied the allegations and accused Palestinians of fabricating events. The army insists it did its utmost to avoid civilian casualties. Israel's Film Ratings Board imposed the ban in 2002, calling Bakri's documentary a "distorted presentation" of the Israeli assault that could mislead the public." The Supreme Court overturned the ban in 2003, but later issued a temporary injunction to hear a separate petition against lifting censorship. That injunction remained in place until 30 August, when the Supreme Court of Israel finally ruled that the film could be shown, though it still called it a "propagandistic lie". Thus, freedom of expression finally prevailed.
Israeli troops shot and wounded a Palestinian photographer, Mahmoud al-Hams, working for the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) during an Israeli army raid in the Gaza Strip on 5 May, according to Reuters. Hams, 25, was hit by a bullet in one leg and shrapnel in the other while taking pictures of Palestinian youths throwing stones at Israeli soldiers in the town of Deir al-Balah. Israeli military sources said troops shot only at armed gunmen who opened fire on them, but acknowledged that children and other civilians were in the area. Witnesses said Palestinians involved in the clashes were unarmed. Hams was taken to a Gaza hospital and his wounds were not life threatening.
On 11 May, the Israeli government requested a new High Court hearing in the ruling on press cards for Palestinian journalists. In the meantime, the court had agreed to the government's request for a suspension on issuing cards to Palestinian journalists. The High Court had previously ruled that the discriminatory governmental practice was unconstitutional. Israel has refused to renew press accreditation to Palestinian journalists since 2001 on the grounds that they pose a potential security threat by being Palestinians. After being challenged legally by the Reuters news agency and Al-Jazeera satellite television network on the issue, the Israeli Government Press Office was found to be acting illegally in a ruling by the Israeli High Court of Justice on 25 April. This ruling, welcomed by campaign groups as a progressive step towards press freedom, said Palestinian journalists should be given press cards if they have been given security clearance to work in Israel.
On 11 May, however, the government petitioned the High Court in a last effort to retain its discriminatory practice, claiming that threatening statements from militant Palestinian groups have now made Palestinian journalists a danger to Israeli leaders in particular.
On the same day, public transport security guards in Jerusalem beat Iyad Harb, reporter for Israeli public radio's Arabic-language service, as he walked past a bus stop. As a result of the assault, Harb was taken to the emergency room at Bikur Holim Hospital where he received treatment.
On 16 May, Israeli helicopters fired missiles on the Gaza City office of a pro-Hamas militant group weekly newspaper, al-Resala, a publication that the army said was used to "incite to terror and to pass [the] messages of the Hamas leadership". The offices were destroyed in the strike, but no casualties were reported.
On 26 May, the British investigative journalist Peter Hounam of London's Sunday Times was arrested by Israeli security agents at his hotel in Jerusalem. Hounam was arrested by five plainclothes policemen, who escorted him to his Jerusalem hotel room. There, they searched his room and bundled him off in a car. A court-imposed gag order prevented the release of further details on Hounam's arrest. In 1986, Hounam had interviewed a former technician at an Israeli atomic reactor, Mordechai Vanunu, who was then arrested and jailed for 18 years, 11 in solitary confinement, for leaking information about Israel's nuclear weapons programme through Hounam's article.
After Vanunu was set free on 22 April 2004, far-reaching restrictions were imposed on him by the Israeli authorities; for example, he is not allowed to leave the country, is restricted to one town, cannot go near any embassy or consulate, may not talk to foreigners or journalists. Israeli authorities also confiscated prison journals in which Vanunu had documented the production of nuclear weapons "to the last screw," the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported. According to the daily, 87 boxes of documents were confiscated from Vanunu's cell ahead of his release. Hounam had been in touch with Vanunu after his release and was in Israel to prepare a documentary film on him.
The Israeli authorities reportedly confiscated five videocassettes in Hounam's possession. Hounam complained about the way he was treated in prison. He claimed that he had not been allowed to sleep, and had not been allowed to inform his wife of his arrest. His lawyer also complained about being denied access to his client. Hounam was held for 24 hours, and then promptly deported. He is not allowed to re-enter the country. On 20 June, Interior Minister Avraham Poraz decided to bar Hounam from Israel after concluding the journalist "could act in Israel to reveal sensitive and important information that could harm national security." Hounam appealed the decision, but on 6 July the Jerusalem District Court upheld the government's decision to refuse him entry.
In early June, Saqar Muhammad Abu Sa'aluq, a journalist and executive director of the Naba news agency, was beaten by police officers, who also broke his camera, while he documented the demolition of homes belonging to the Abu Dhi'an family in the village of Um Al-Hiran in the Negev Desert. He told I'lam, "I was the only reporter who was covering attacks by the police on women in the house about to be demolished. They removed me forcibly, and when I attempted to draw near [again] a policeman came and pushed me and hit my camera hard with his wireless telephone."
On 8 June, journalist Ali Waked, who had been employed in the news department of Y-Net for four years, was prevented from boarding the airplane as the Israeli foreign minister left for a visit to Egypt. An investigation by the editorial staff of Y-Net showed that the order to prevent Waked from boarding the airplane came from "security sources." In addition, Y-Net was asked to "change their reporter."
The Palestinian photographer Ala'a Badarneh of the European Press Agency (EPA) went to al-Zawiyeh village, around 30 km south of Nablus on 10 June to cover local Palestinian protests against the building of Israel's "security barrier," which was pronounced illegal by the UN General Assembly in 2003 and by the International Court of Justice in the Hague in 2004.
Soldiers broke up the demonstration with tear gas. One soldier some 40 metres away targeted him, firing a tear gas canister directly at his legs. Badarneh was picked up at the scene in a private car and after going through several Israeli roadblocks he reached Nablus hospital where he was kept under observation for the day. He had been clearly identifiable as a journalist, wearing a fluorescent jacket marked "PRESS," according to RSF.
The Palestinian photographer Jaafar Ishtayeh, of Agence France-Presse (AFP), was injured in the back by a tear gas canister in al-Zawiyeh village on 13 June, according to RSF. He was taken to hospital and discharged after treatment, but was unable to resume work for several days.
Nasser Ishtayeh, photographer for AP was also in al-Zawiyeh during the demonstrations. He arrived there on 14 June after waiting more than an hour at a military checkpoint and was threatened by soldiers. He reported that one of them said to him, "Watch out, we have already injured two of your friends. You better take care if you don't want to be the third."
Photographer Abed Qusini of Reuters narrowly avoided arrest on the same day in the same village. He said he was with a group of Palestinian journalists and filming, when a soldier ordered his arrest on the grounds that the area had been declared a "closed military zone." Qusini, who speaks Hebrew, asked to see the written order and to photograph it as proof to Reuters that all journalists were banned from the area. Two soldiers grabbed his wrists and tried to seize his equipment. He struggled and tried to use his mobile phone to call for help. An officer then ordered his arrest and two soldiers attached his hands to their vehicle with plastic handcuffs. Fifteen minutes later he was freed but threatened with further arrest unless he immediately left the scene.
On the following day, Qusini was working in Nablus, covering an Israeli Army incursion into the town. He was among a group of around a dozen journalists who were covering a military operation around a building. The soldiers used loudspeakers to insult them and threatened to destroy their equipment unless they left the area. Qusini protested and asked to see the order that it was a "closed military zone." An angry officer called for his arrest and he was bundled into an Israeli jeep and his jacket was ripped off and used to blindfold him. His colleagues only secured his release on the condition that they all immediately leave the area.
Also on 15 June, journalist Rami Mansour, editor of the Arabic-language news edition of the Israeli cable TV company Hot, was arrested by Eiron police while photographing the remains of a Jewish-Arab protest tent in the vicinity of Kafr Kar'a established by the organisation "Green Trend" to protest the Cross-Israel Highway. "You aren't in Palestine here, this is the State of Israel," explained the policemen after arresting Mansour for allegedly refusing to be held back.
Despite the fact that Mansour responded to the policeman's request and produced identification. Mansour asked the policeman to explain the reason for the delay, but the latter confined himself to stating "You are delayed," without any explanation of the delay, as, however, is required under Article 72(A) of the Criminal Law Proceedings Law (Enforcement Authorities - Detentions), 5756-1996. Moreover, the policeman prevented Mansour from using his mobile telephone, thus infringing the basic rights of a detainee without any justification and in contradiction of the law (Article 9 of the above-mentioned law).
The detention and enforced delay of the journalist Mansour took place without the slightest respect for his dignity and liberties. He was humiliated and his dignity was gravely violated, in addition to the grave injury to his freedom of vocation and his ability to properly perform his work, according to I'lam.
Journalist Elias Karam was verbally abused by a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, during a parliamentary session on 22 June. The incident came after the publication in Kul Al-Arab on 11 June of an expose by Karam quoting at length the testimony of one of the prisoners in Shata prison, and detailing the abuse of Palestinian prisoners by warders, some of whom came from the Druze community. A similar article had appeared in another Arabic newspaper, Al-Ittihad. The article was discussed during a session of the Knesset Internal and Environmental Affairs Committee held on 22 June. In the middle of the session, MK Wahabi shouted at Elias Karam: "You're an antisemite, shut up!"
The Israeli army grilled a group of ex-conscripts on 23 June over a photo exhibition they said documents abuses of Palestinians by troops and Jewish settlers in the West Bank, according to Reuters. The army said it was probing the allegations raised by "Breaking the Silence: Soldiers Tell about Hebron" - a display of photographs and videotaped accounts collected by the four troopers in the flashpoint city. But exhibition organisers accused authorities of hushing up criticism of Israel's actions to suppress a 3-1/2-year-old Palestinian uprising. "I think there is an attempt here to prevent other soldiers from breaking the silence," said Giora Salmi, director of the Tel Aviv gallery staging the exhibition.
On 26 June, Atta Oweisat, a photographer working for Yediot Aharonot, was beaten unconscious by Israeli Border Guards while he covered an Israeli-Palestinian demonstration against the segregation barrier. The border guards even refused to call an ambulance, as they were obliged to do whether or not the patient requested this, and confined themselves to telling him to "call for an ambulance yourself." This attitude infringed the basic right of Oweisat to receive medical treatment, as required under the terms of the Patients Rights Law, 5756-1996, Article 3(B) which states that "in a medical emergency, a person is entitled to receive urgent medical treatment withoutů [condition]." It should be emphasised that Oweisat himself requested that an ambulance be called, after he regained consciousness following his beating, yet the border guards made no effort to assist, according to I'lam.
Israeli helicopter gunships hit a Hamas-linked media office in the Gaza Strip on 28 June. Three helicopter missiles slammed into the fourth floor of a Gaza City media building, the premises of al-Jeel, a Hamas-linked journal. The blast also shattered the windows of press agencies on other floors, and spewed debris on the street below. The Israeli army confirmed targeting al-Jeel, saying in a statement the office was "a communication centre which maintained constant contact with terrorists (and) through which Hamas claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks."
Two employees of Ramattan Broadcast Services, a company that provides studio equipment and services to international news outlets in Gaza and also operates from the building, were slightly injured in the attack, according to CPJ, who issued a protest over the attack.
Other journalists were reported to be in the building, which is typically occupied throughout the day and night. The al-Jeel Press Office is headed by freelance journalist Mustafa al-Sawaf, who contributes to news outlets that include the Cairo-based news Web site Islamonline.com; the BBC; and Middle East Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). CPJ sources said that Al-Saada, a weekly magazine with Islamist sympathies, had previously shared an office with al-Jeel, but had recently vacated the building and moved to another location.
On 14 July, MK Majala Wahabi took to the Knesset podium and urged government ministries and subordinate bodies, such as the Government Publications Office, to withhold advertisements from the newspapers Kul Al-Arab and Al-Ittihad, which he referred to as "inciting press." This comment came after the publication in Kul Al-Arab and Al-Ittihad of articles about abuses of Palestinian prisoners.
On 5 August, Israel's highest court rejected a government challenge to its ruling that it was illegal to bar all Palestinians from getting Israeli press cards. The High Court of Justice had ruled on 25 April that the Government Press Office could not refuse credentials to journalists from the West Bank and Gaza Strip on the grounds they pose a potential security risk. But the government requested a hearing by more than the original three judges - the only avenue for appeal to the court. The court now threw out the petition, saying it did not warrant a further hearing. The High Court's ruling, hailed by campaign groups as a victory for press freedom, said Palestinian journalists should be allowed cards if they had been given security clearance to work in Israel.
At the end of 2001, the Israeli government had refused to renew press cards it had previously granted Palestinian journalists, saying they should all be considered a security threat during the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Cases were brought to the High Court by global news and information company Reuters Group Plc and Qatar-based Arabic television station Al Jazeera.
IPI's mission to Israel in March and April 2003 had pressured the Israeli government on this issue but had not been immediately successful. The High Court, however, now ordered the government to renew the press card of Reuters Television senior producer Ahmed Seif, given that no reason had been found to consider him a security threat. The court also ruled that press cards be issued to Al Jazeera staff who had been denied them, as long as they got work and entry permits. "We are very pleased at the landmark ruling in defence of press freedom. We now look forward to seeing it applied," Reuters said. Government Press Office Director Danny Seaman told Reuters: "We will respect the decision of the court."
Eva Jasiewicz, a British freelance journalist, was prevented entry into Israel at Tel Aviv's airport on 11 August and was questioned for several hours by security officials. Her lawyer petitioned a court to block her deportation. Israeli officials said the 26-year-old freelance writer was being deported because she has visited the country in the past under assumed names to take part in protests by pro-Palestinian foreign activists. "She was not coming as a journalist, she was coming for political activism. That in itself would not prevent her entry into Israel but the fact that she entered in the past under aliases is enough, it's a violation in any country," said government spokesman Danny Seaman.
Jasiewicz's lawyer Yael Barda said her client visited Israel under a different name in the past, but had changed her name legally in order to avoid attempts by Israeli officials to bar her from entering the country. "It wasn't an alias. She legally changed her name and then... she decided (this time) she didn't want to hide her identity so she changed her name back," Barda said. She added the real reason Israeli authorities were trying to bar Jasiewicz's entry into the country was because "she posed a media threat." Barda said her client told Israeli authorities that she had connections to the International Solidarity Movement and was an advocacy journalist. "She does say 'I am a journalist with an agenda. I write about human rights and activism," Barda said.
On 1 September, Jasiewicz decided to return to the United Kingdom after discontinuing the legal action before the Israeli Supreme Court. Jasiewicz made the decision because, if the court had found against her, it would have created a binding legal precedent for other foreign journalists entering Israel. According to information from the British National Union of Journalists (NUJ), during the initial stages of the 1 September hearing, the Supreme Court appeared in favour of allowing Jasiewicz to enter Israel but wanted to ban her from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian Territories. However, the Supreme Court then decided to hear evidence from the security forces ex parte, excluding both Jasiewicz and her legal team from the hearing and preventing them from understanding the true nature of the charges made against her. At this stage in the hearing, Jasiewicz decided to discontinue the case.
In a previous hearing before a district court in Tel Aviv, on 25 August, the court concluded that the Israeli authorities were entitled to refuse Jasiewicz entry because she might be "used" by terrorists. Israeli district judge, Dora Pilpel,said, "I am denying her [Jasiewicz] entry not because she is a security threat but she might be used by others, because of her status as a journalist and her political and ideological beliefs, on her way to prevent what she calls fascism and racism."
The comments of Judge Pilpel echoed earlier comments by the Israeli authorities. When the authorities first detained Jasiewicz, on 11 August, it was claimed the journalist was biased. On 19 August, a judge ordered her release, but the Israeli authorities successfully overturned this decision with a judge ordering on 22 August that the district court in Tel Aviv hear the case.
In a protest to the Israeli government on 2 September, IPI said it was "deeply disappointed that Jasiewicz was forced to halt her legal action out of fear of harming the chances of other foreign journalists entering the country. From now on, foreign journalists wishing to report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be mindful that the Israeli authorities will be able to prevent them from entering the country."
The protest continued: "ůmany of the decisions in the case were based on evidence that was not available to the defence. This creates a Kafkaesque situation in which individuals can be accused, found guilty and deported without ever knowing the reason. Jasiewicz was not considered a 'security threat' by the district court in Tel Aviv and, on this basis, it is difficult to understand why the authorities were able to exclude the defence from hearing its evidence. The case also raises all sorts of implications for media organisations, particularly regarding the way in which journalists practice their profession. In a democracy, it is not for governments to decide what journalists should or should not write; nor should governments have the right to decide whether that writing is biased. Such matters are the sole concern of the journalist and his or her media organisation. There is absolutely no need for a government to sit in judgement of this process."
Israeli soldiers detained three journalists working for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) during an undercover military operation in Nablus on 12 August. A BBC crew who had been filming a Palestinian doctor as he made house calls was forced to sit for four hours at gunpoint by Israeli troops, said Nicholas Springate, the BBC's Jerusalem bureau chief. The soldiers demanded the journalists hand over phones, confiscated their videotape and denied their requests to be allowed to contact their bureau or Israeli authorities, he said.
"The BBC will be issuing a formal statement and complaint," said Springate. Military officials said the BBC journalists and two Palestinians had unwittingly walked into a building where the Israeli undercover operation was under way to hunt for Palestinian militants. They said the undercover troops had been afraid Palestinian gunmen in the streets might get wind of their presence in the building, and had put the journalists under guard and taken away their phones until the operation ended to maintain secrecy. "Unfortunately there was no other way the soldiers could have acted without exposing themselves and endangering themselves," said army spokeswoman Major Sharon Feingold. He added that the situation was explained to the journalists at the time. The Israeli army said it had apologised to the BBC for the incident and had launched an investigation.
In mid-August, Adel Zaanoun, a Palestinian journalist working for AFP, was forced to wait for 48 hours at the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt along with his wife and 5-year-old son, only to learn that they would not be let out of the country by the Israeli executive. The journalist's papers were all in order. Because of the closure he missed a journalism course in Sweden in which he was scheduled to participate.
On 12 November, IFJ accused the Israeli authorities of "a disgraceful abuse of democracy" over the intimidation of Mordechai Vanunu, the whistle-blower arrested on the previous day by Israeli police just six months after his release from jail. "It is extraordinary that a country calling itself the only democracy in the Middle East is itself guilty of this disgraceful and grotesque abuse of democracy," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "Vanunu has served his time but continues to be persecuted."
The IFJ says it is absurd to imagine that after so long in jail he could possibly have any secrets to give away. "This is intimidation, pure and simple," said White.
Kate Raphael Bender, a Jewish-American freelance journalist and human rights activist working for IWPS, the International Women's Peace Service, was arrested along with American journalist and human rights activist Kelly Minio-Paluetto, four Israelis and a Briton on 14 December. The two women were to remain in jail until the beginning of 2005. Both of them were arrested while filming the severe beating of a teenage Palestinian by a group of paramilitary Israeli "border police" at a peaceful protest against the construction of Israel's so-called 'Apartheid Wall' in Belain village, Ramallah District.
Although she was filming during the beating, Raphael Bender also attempted to intervene with her free hand and grabbed the truncheon of one of the attackers in order to prevent him from causing further damage to the youth. Soon after their arrest, the women were ordered deported for entering a "closed military zone." At the time of writing, Raphael Bender and Minio-Paluetto were still being held in Tsochar Prison near Israel's border with Egypt and the Gaza strip.
According to Raphael Bender, the attack on the teenager was "unprovoked," and he was "repeatedly kicked and beaten with clubs by a group of border police. Two other protesters were also wounded and soldiers then fired hand grenades at those carrying the injured to the village. Later they fired sound bombs and rubber bullets at a crowd including small children." Raphael Bender filed an appeal on 20 December requesting that the order to deport her be revoked.
In her appeal, she stated: "The Apartheid Wall has been held to be illegal by the International Court of Justice. Israel has been ordered to cease construction of the Wall. The International Court ruling requires foreign governments to take steps to force Israel to comply with the ruling. Foreign governments have not met this obligation."
Raphael Bender further argued that the Israeli government had no right to deport her for trying to prevent it from committing illegal acts. Raphael Bender will represent herself in the appeals process. Israel has deported dozens of foreign activists and journalists in the last two years. This was the first time that someone had based their appeal on the responsibility of individuals to take action when governments do not. The appeal stayed the deportation order. Bail had been denied, so Raphael Bender was forced to await her court hearing, scheduled for 16 January 2005, in jail.
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