Guilty Until Proven Innocent

The Israeli government intends to take new measures against Palestinian journalists that would require them to acquire travel permits to be able to move between Palestinian cities and villages that are under Israeli siege.

According to the Arabic website of the Israeli daily newspaper Yideot Ahranot, “these new regulations that are still under formation, require Palestinian journalists, who live in areas that are under security closure, will be issued special permits to be able to move in these areas. Journalists with permits will be able to go through [Israeli] checkpoints, but should abide by the army regulations including the declaration of some zones as ‘closed military areas’.”

Such measures are yet another step Israel takes to block the work of journalists in general and Palestinian journalists in particular.

In the past, Palestinian journalists were required to obtain entry permits to Israel based on possession of a press card issued by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO). We then considered this against all international laws that give journalists the freedom to move and access information. At the same time, we understood the ‘security’ reasons for such a requirement and accepted it because it is also applied to many sectors of the Palestinians including doctors, lawyers, merchants, and employees of international aid agencies.

Now, we are encountering a new situation that will restrict the movement of Palestinian journalists even in their own territory. We have become captives of the decision of the Israeli District Liaison (DCL) offices where journalists must go to get their new permits.

This new Israeli policy violates Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

According to Yediot Ahranot, “these permits are to replace press cards previously issued by the Israeli Government Press Office and will be obtained through the Coordinator of Activities in the [Palestinian] territories while the role of the GPO will be limited to consultancy”.

Again, this is a violation of Article 2 of the United Nations draft convention that states “a journalist is a person who is considered as such by virtue of national legislation or practice. In order to have the benefit of special protection, journalists must be in possession of a card issued by the national authorities.”

Israel is the ‘national authority’ because it occupies all Palestinian territories, and, in the event of the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Palestinian territories, Israel will still control borders, roads and checkpoints in many parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Therefore, it should give journalists press cards according to international law.

The excuse that the GPO gave for not renewing press cards for Palestinian journalists is based on the claim that these cards “on some occasions were misused including entry to Israel and that terrorist organizations look for any possible gap including the use of the Israeli press card.”

This Israeli accusation cannot be generalized. Journalists cannot be punished for something they did not do or for something that Palestinian militant groups might be doing. Journalists cannot be ‘guilty until proven innocent.’

Nevertheless, I agree with Daniel Seaman, the Director of the GPO, that his office should not be dealing with the issue of permits. Palestinian journalists do not ask the GPO to issue them permits. They ask for press cards like any other foreign and Israeli journalist in the area.

Walid Batrawi is a Palestinian journalist and producer from Ramallah. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Columbia, Missouri, USA.