Israel ‘indefensibly prevents dozens of Palestinian journalists from travelling as a punishment for their journalistic work or expression of their opinions,’ Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said in a report released on Monday.
Entitled ‘Punishing Journalists: Israel’s Restrictions on Freedom of Movement,’ the report documents cases in which the Israeli intelligence service and the Israeli General Security Service (Shin Bet) used extortion against and threatened Palestinian journalists over their right to travel and movement.
Several journalists told Euro-Med Monitor that Israeli officers threatened them that the travel ban against them could only be lifted if they turned informant and reported security information about Palestinians to Israeli intelligence, or worked for Israel.
Others said that Israeli officers said they would allow them to travel only if they gave up their journalistic work or stopped working for certain media outlets.
Had the journalists refused, they would have been subjected to physical and psychological attacks, including beatings, detentions, home break-ins, and threats of continuous prosecution.
Journalist Radi Karama, 32, from Hebron in the southern West Bank, told Euro-Med Monitor: ‘I was interrogated by an Israeli officer who introduced himself as the one responsible for the travel ban.
‘We talked about the details of the travel ban. He presented me with several proposals, all centred on working for Israeli security in exchange for removing the ban.
‘He offered me a monthly salary of $3,000 in return for working with him, but I categorically refused … after that I was surprised that a large group of the Israeli army stormed my house.
‘I was arrested and taken to the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron.
‘That night was the worst in my life. He (the officer) told me that the removal of the travel ban was conditional on working with him.’
In addition to research, the report is based on dozens of interviews Euro-Med Monitor’s team conducted with Palestinian journalists who are banned from travelling in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.
The journalists said that travel bans are made arbitrarily through ‘administrative decisions’ issued by the Israeli authorities, including the intelligence service, without following any legal or judicial procedures or informing the journalists at the time.
Journalists are also not told the name of the authority that issued the decision, the reasons behind it, or how to remove or object to the decision.
Most journalists learn of the ban in one of five ways: when applying for a travel permit; while at the border crossing; by the Civil Administration; when returning from abroad; or in a Shin Bet interview.
Nour Olwan, Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief Media Officer, said: ‘For decades, the Israeli authorities have been tightening the grip on journalists in the Palestinian territories, by direct targeting, arrests, intimidation, damage to equipment, and more.
‘In recent years, another undisclosed form of abuse against them has escalated. An increasing number of journalists have begun to find themselves banned from travelling without justification or explanation, apparently to punish them for their work.
‘The Israeli authorities’ pursuit of such arbitrary policies against Palestinian journalists to silence them is a setback for freedoms of expression and journalistic work in the Palestinian territories,’ she added.
In some cases, the Israeli authorities do not even inform journalists or their lawyers for the reasons for the ban. Often, they are told that the reason is in a ‘secret file’.
In cases where they are informed, journalists are usually charged with ‘posing a threat’ to regional security, ‘incitement through the media’, or belonging to or working for banned parties.
The report also points out that only in cases of extreme necessity, does international law allow limited restrictions on freedom of movement – provided these restrictions are proportionate and do not entail discriminatory measures or violations against civilians who do not pose a security threat to individuals or groups.
However, most of the Israeli restrictions on Palestinians are disproportionate and discriminatory.
Olwan stressed that under international human rights law and international humanitarian law – in addition to the Oslo Accords that Israel signed with the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1995, which guaranteed the Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement and travel – Israel is obligated to to grant Palestinian journalists their right of movement inside Palestinian territory without hindrance or restrictions.
‘The Israeli authorities should abide by their responsibilities as the occupying power; remove travel bans against Palestinian journalists based on their journalistic work or exercising their right to freedom of expression; and stop pursuing, arresting, and threatening journalists, and randomly interrogating them at crossings and military checkpoints because of their journalistic activity,’ said Euro-Med Monitor.
An investigation should be opened into the cases mentioned in the report, in which Israeli officers tried to use extortion against Palestinian journalists over their right to travel in exchange for working for the Israeli intelligence, it added
Meanwhile, Syrian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Bashar al-Jaafari, has declared once again the Damascus government’s support of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem (al-Quds) as its capital.
Speaking at a ceremony to on Sunday to mark the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Jaafari stressed that Syria also backs the Palestinian refugees’ right to return to the homes from which they were displaced, as set forth in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 adopted on December 11, 1948.
Syria has always considered the Palestinian cause to be a domestic issue, he said, and has spared no effort to resolve the Palestinian issue.
‘The international community has so far failed to put an end to the Israeli occupation of Arab territories, and the Tel Aviv regime’s authorities have not been held to account for such a crime,’ he said.
For his part, Palestinian Ambassador to Syria, Samir al-Rifai, stressed the importance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which points to the gross injustice and suffering that Palestinians have endured ever since the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
The Syrian parliament has, again, denounced the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which led to the creation of Israel, as ‘invalid’ and in flagrant violation of international law.
The Balfour Declaration came in the form of a letter from Britain’s then-Tory Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a leading Zionist and figurehead of the British Jewish community. It was published on November 2nd, 1917.
The declaration was made during World War I (1914-1918), and was included in the terms of the British Mandate for Palestine after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
It is widely seen as the precursor to the 1948 Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe), when Zionist armed paramilitary groups, who were trained and created to fight side by side with the British in World War II, forcibly expelled more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland.
Palestinians want the West Bank as part of a future independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The United Nations has approved a resolution condemning the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and Syria’s Golan Heights.
Israel, which captured the territory in 1967 and later annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community, calls Jerusalem (al-Quds) its ‘indivisible capital’.
More than 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The UN Security Council has condemned Israel’s settlement activities in the occupied territories in several resolutions.