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Israel - The only democracy in the Middle-East?

Monday 3 January 2011, by Anat Guthmann, Anat Matar (Date first published: 30 January 2009).

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Freedom of the press - Journalists’ access to the Gaza Strip denied

Reporters Without Borders has recently ranked Israel 149th of 160 countries regarding the respect of the freedom of the press.

Israeli journalists have been forbidden to enter the Gaza strip for more than two years. Amira Hass and Shlomi Eldar, two well-known Israeli reporters, who entered Gaza before the offensive and reported from there, were immediately arrested upon returning to Israel.

The Israeli High Court’s ruling of January 2nd 2009 to allow a pool of representatives of the world media (only eight of them) to enter Gaza under strict military supervision was not implemented by the state until the present day.
However, two Israeli reporters, Ron Ben Yishay from Ynet and Amos Harel
from Haaretz, were allowed into the Gaza Strip, on the condition that they accompany the Israeli army. This fact exposes the lie of the army’s spokesmen as for the reasons not to allow journalists into the Gaza Strip despite the HCJ decision.

On the other hand, dozens of journalists that cannot enter the Gaza strip are present in Sderot and other cities near Israel’s southern border. This fact creates an imbalanced coverage of the events, which is exactly the Israeli goal in winning the media war as the world receives one-sided reports.

Foreign journalists have been detained, and online forums have been contacted and requested to remove threads, which the army considered ‘dangerous either to security or morale’. The parliament has happily jumped on the bandwagon, with one prominent MK suggesting to ‘block al Jazeera and al Arabiya due to the demoralizing effect it has on our Arab population’.

‘These actions are placing Israel at risk of appearing like a military dictatorship’, said ABC’s Simon McGregor Wood. ‘When Israel prevents journalists from reporting it is running the risk of being portrayed in the same manner as countries such as Burma and Zimbabwe’, he added.

The repression of the protests - Extensive force, mass arrests, investigations and threats

Since the beginning of the offensive on Gaza, protesters met police and army brutality in most of the peaceful demonstrations taking place on a daily basis.
More than 800 Israeli citizens have been arrested during or after non-violent
demonstrations against the war, for disturbing the peace, waving Palestinian
flags, and ‘hurting the nation’s morale’. Others were called in for interrogation by the security services, and were intimidated, threatened and warned not to take part in any demonstration, given house arrests and forbidden to enter certain cities. The large majority of those arrested are Israeli Palestinian citizens.
About 30 others belong to the non-Zionist Jewish left wing. A third are under
18. More than 100 have already been indicted.

Palestinian, Israeli and international protesters in the West bank, participating in non-violent demonstration against the attack on Gaza, met extreme army violence, which used live rounds, killing 4 Palestinian demonstrators in Ni’ilin, Kalkilia and Sawad. Many others were wounded. Demonstrators testified that in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, the army has reintroduced the use of the Ruger 22, a semiautomatic rifle that uses live ammunition to disperse crowds.
This rifle was banned after the second Intifada for causing the deaths of a number of Palestinians, including youths and children.

On January 12th, 2009, the Central Elections Committee disqualified the
Israeli Arab lists of Balad and Raam-Taal from participating in the coming
elections by a large majority in light of their opposition to the military attack.
This decision was annulled on January 21st 2009 by the HCJ.

The real test of democracy is in times of war and conflict, and it is in those
times that it is measured. These recent events join the long list of Israeli oppression towards its Israeli and Palestinian citizens as well as the Palestinian habitants of the Gaza strip and the west bank. By denying the most basic democratic rights: freedom of the press, the right to protest and minority rights, Israel has shown itself once more far from the democratic values to which it pretends.

Anat Guthmann & Anat Matar

(January 30, 2009)

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