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OPC Criticizes Israel for Harassment of Journalists
The Israeli government replied to this letter, which is posted at the bottom of this letter.
H.E. Benjamin Netanyahu
Office of the Prime Minister
3 Kaplan Street
State of Israel
Fax: (011.972.2) 651.2361
Dear Mr. Prime Minister:
As one of the oldest organizations of journalists in the United States defending freedom of the press, the Overseas Press Club of America writes to protest what appears to be an escalating campaign against the media in the West Bank and in Israel itself. We acknowledge that the Palestinian Authority, not to mention, Hamas, have a poor record with respect to the freedom of the press. However, that does not license Israel to behave equally badly. One would expect that a democratic nation that aspires to the respect of the world would have a much better record than it has.
The Israeli military have harassed Palestinian journalists, detained them without charges, confiscated their equipment, and shut down their offices. Most recently, they have attacked Palestinian and Western journalists alike with tear gas and rubber bullets. Journalists who cover demonstrations realize they are running some risks, but journalists on the scene of recent demonstrations in Israel report they have been deliberately targeted at short range by Israeli soldiers. An Al-Jazeera cameraman was injured when an Israeli soldier fired a gas canister directly at his hand. A cameraman for Palestine TV was injured in the stomach by a rubber bullet. An Associated Press photographer was arrested briefly in December, and a few days later, injured by a gas canister fired at his legs. A female photographer for The New York Times, although pregnant, was forced to go through an X-ray machine three times last fall while Israeli soldiers laughed at her.
Raids by Israeli soldiers shut down two Palestinian TV stations on the West Bank. They seized transmitters, computers, files and other equipment. The two were classified by Israeli authorities as “pirate stations” whose frequencies interfered with air traffic control. Even assuming that is entirely accurate, a less violent method of dealing with the stations could and should have been found.
As for the Israeli media, it seems that Channel 10 is being punished for making critical comments while the public station, Channel 1, enjoys the favor of the government. The Knesset has refused to allow Channel 10 to postpone its debt payments, while Channel 1 had its debts forgiven. Perhaps more worrying is the bill in the Knesset which would greatly increase the fines for defamation in the press and in blogs – we call them fines because, unlike conventional civil suits, no damages need be proven. And that is just one of the pending pieces of legislation that would restrict the freedom of expression of Israelis.
Mr. Prime Minister, we need not remind you that Israel is struggling to maintain its legitimacy as a democratic nation. The incidents and policies listed above are evidence of a continuing erosion of democracy in Israel that is deplored by all of your country’s friends, including human rights and press freedom organizations. The Overseas Press Club of America counts itself among your friends, and we urge you to take the actions and adopt the policies that will restore Israel to its rightful place among the principled nations of the world.
Freedom of the Press Committee
H.E. Avigdor Liberman
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
9 Yitzhak Rabin Boulevard
State of Israel
H.E. Michael B. Oren
Ambassador of Israel to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the State of Israel
3514 International Drive, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 364.5423
Ambassador Ron Prosor
Permanent Mission of the State of Israel to the United Nations
800 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 499.5515
Hon. David B. Shapiro
United States Ambassador to Israel
Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520