Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's "Massive Censorship"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's "Massive Censorship"

Article excerpt

Betselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, has issued a 40-page information sheet documenting what it calls "massive censorship" by Israel of the East Jerusalem press. The 40-page study also points out that such "Draconian" Israeli censorship is being applied in a discriminatory manner, and in violation of previous Israeli court decisions which found freedom of expression a "preeminent right" except where censorship is "truly required" for security.

Americans accustomed to the cliche that Israel is "the only working democracy" in the Middle East generally are dismayed to learn that it has no constitution and that its "democracy" works best for those who are Jewish. The most blatant religious discrimination occurs in the occupied territories, where the protections of Israeli civil law are applied only to Jewish residents, and harsh military measures deprive non-Jews of virtually any legal protections.

Some Are More Equal Than Others

Discrimination also applies in Israel itself, where Christians and Muslims are barred by various covenants from owning property or working in more than 90 percent of the country. Even in the few areas open to ownership by non-Jews, requests for building permits, land improvements, or improved facilities are generally denied or delayed if submitted by Muslim or Christian individuals, companies or municipalities, but expedited if submitted by Jews.

This pervasive discrimination also applies to press censorship. Western media, quick to criticize censorship in other Third World countries, seldom report restrictions on their own operations in Israel, and virtually never acknowledge the suffocating restrictions imposed upon their Palestinian colleagues.

For all practical purposes, television cameras were banned from the West Bank and Gaza in April 1988, four months after the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada. To make sure television cameras would not record the widespread disturbances, the Palestinian information bureau in East Jerusalem, which was alerting journalists to breaking events within the occupied areas, was closed and some of its personnel arrested. To control the activities of print media journalists, occupation authorities impose curfews or declare towns, camps or villages where problems are reported a "closed military area."

This latter tactic is also applied in East Jerusalem, which the Israeli government claims is part of Israel proper since its unilateral "annexation" after the 1967 war. That is why Americans see virtually no television footage from the West Bank and Gaza, areas in open insurrection, and very little from East Jerusalem.

Exceptions to the Rule

Exceptions were the "hands around Jerusalem" demonstrations at the end of 1989, in which Israeli peace activists, Palestinians, and European and American supporters linked hands and completely surrounded the Old City until their peaceful manifestation was broken up with fire hoses and truncheons. Another exception was a demonstration by Christian clergy against Jewish" settlers" occupying St. John's Hospice in the Christian Quarter, only steps away from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The demonstration arose spontaneously in an area heavily frequented by Western tourists and pilgrims. Jerusalem police broke it up with tear gas, however, and then effectively cordoned off the entire area both from protestors and the media.

Journalists in Israel are subjected to other less visible forms of censorship. …

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