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Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory

Key Developments

» Tensions between Hamas and Fatah continue to generate press violations.

» Israeli authorities arrest and detain Palestinian journalists, often without charge.

Despite the immense differences between the Israeli government, Fatah, and Hamas, they shared a common trait in 2013: a consistent and troublesome record of silencing journalists who reported dissenting perspectives. The revolving door on Israeli prisons continued to spin, as the government arrested multiple Palestinian journalists while releasing others. Palestinian journalists are often held under administrative detention, which effectively allows the Israeli government to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge. Israeli security forces sought to constrict coverage of Palestinian demonstrations, with journalists under threat of injury and detention. Local human rights organizations reported that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank also obstructed coverage of protests, especially those in support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Hamas also restricted coverage of protests and opposition movements in Gaza. Hamas authorities shut down several media offices, including the Ramallah-based Ma'an and Al-Arabiya. In March, President Mahmoud Abbas pardoned a journalist who had been convicted of insulting him. Israeli journalists, however, enjoy greater freedom than any other press corps in the region, even as they face government censorship for articles concerning national security.



  • 3

    Journalists in prison
  • 1

    Rubber-coated metal bullet
  • 500

    Abuses against Palestinian press
  • 1

    Story censored
 

The Israeli government was holding at least three Palestinian journalists behind bars, according to CPJ's annual prison census conducted on December 1. All of the journalists were arrested this year.

Imprisoned over time:
 

Israeli security forces shot Palestinian freelance photographer Mohammed al-Azza in the face with a rubber-coated steel bullet as he was filming soldiers in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem in April.

A few months later, al-Azza was arrested by Israeli security forces in a nighttime raid of his family's compound. In late 2013, he was released from prison but prevented from traveling abroad.


Breakdown of the attack:

The bullet

According to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, Israeli forces use both rubber-coated metal cylinders and plastic-coated metal pellets to control crowds in the Palestinian territory. These munitions are often misleadingly referred to as "rubber bullets."

The government-sponsored Or Commission determined in 2003 that "rubber-coated bullets are not appropriate for use due to their risk" and that "police should remove them from use." But B'Tselem said that while Israeli forces have ceased using them within Israel, they continue to use them in the Palestinian territory.

The distance

According to the Israel Defense Forces, "rubber ammunition is potentially lethal, and using it not in accordance with regulations may result in fatalities or serious injuries." IDF regulations prohibit the use of "rubber ammunition" at any target closer than 50 meters (164 feet) and stipulate that the shooter must aim for the legs of the target.

Al-Azza was shot at a range of 10 to 15 meters (32 to 49 feet) with the gun aimed directly at his face, according to Nidal al-Azza, al-Azza's uncle and a human rights lawyer.

Official response

In response to a CPJ inquiry about al-Azza, the IDF said in a statement in April that "a Palestinian had been slightly injured by a rubber bullet. An inquiry conducted by the commanding officers confirmed that a Palestinian has sustained minor injuries. After conducting the inquiry as detailed above, and as a result of the details that emerged from it, it was decided to conclude the complaint in question."

The IDF added that it supports freedom of the press as a "general principle."
 

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) said this year that it had documented more than 500 violations against Palestinian journalists by Palestinian factions since June 2007, when Hamas and Fatah clashed violently and split political control between Gaza and the West Bank, respectively. MADA called on all Palestinian factions "to end the division and its negative impact on the media."

The center also noted that it had documented more than 800 violations committed by Israeli authorities during the same period. In the first half of 2013, MADA documented a total of 113 anti-press violations: 78 committed by Israeli forces, and 35 by Palestinian factions.

Violations reported by MADA by year:
 

In February, Australia's ABC reported that Prisoner X, an inmate who committed suicide in a top-secret Israeli detention facility in December 2010, was Ben Zygier, a former Australian-Israeli Mossad officer. After the report was published, the Israeli government admitted the existence of Prisoner X for the first time—more than two years after his death.

Everything about Prisoner X's case—his incarceration, his charges, his death, and even his name—had been subject to state censorship. Journalists who managed to learn of the highly confidential case would be subject to interrogation and potential prosecution if they reported on it.

The Prisoner X case offers a glimpse into the larger system of state censorship in Israel, where stories dealing with national security are often suppressed by military censors and court gag orders.

The case prompted a public discussion of state censorship of the Israeli press. In late 2013, the government was reportedly considering reforms to its censorship system.


Three avenues of state censorship:

Military censors

All news publications dealing with security issues must be approved by a military censor. Articles concerning Prisoner X were subject to the military censorship process.

Decisions by the military censor are not subject to the normal military chain of command, but instead are subordinated to the High Court of Justice. In a 2010 interview with Der Spiegel, the chief military censor Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil said the Israeli High Court of Justice had set an "extremely rigid test" for censorship: publication would cause imminent, certain, and actual harm to state security.

Gag orders

According to the ABC report, Judge Hila Gerstl of the Petach Tikva District Court banned any mention of Prisoner X or the circumstances of his custody in June 2010. The court also banned any mention of the order itself.

A day after the ABC report, the Israeli government confirmed that Prisoner X was an Israeli citizen holding a foreign passport who had committed suicide in 2010 and partially lifted the gag order placed on the case.

Editors Committee

In response to the ABC report, the prime minister's office called a meeting of the Editors Committee to ask them not to publish information "very embarrassing to a certain government agency," Haaretz reported. The committee, an informal forum between Israeli media and security officials, has become central to self-censorship in the country.

As Noam Sheizaf of +972 Magazine said, the Editors Committee allows "editors-in-chief of media organizations [to] receive secret information from the government in exchange for not publishing it." In recent years, the committee lost influence as major newspapers withdrew, but its importance was revived with the Prisoner X case.

Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn said he refused to go to the meeting because the government should not "turn editors into intelligence 'assets,' " according to news reports.



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