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Here’s a photo by French journalist Emilie Baujard, taken at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport at midday today, showing press technicians waiting for the arrival of any Air Flotilla participants who managed to slip through the barriers at European airports before boarding flights to Ben Gurion today.

Photo at Ben Gurion Airport at midday 15 April 2012 - by Emilie Baujard

Hundreds of tickets were cancelled at the request of Israeli authorities, who circulated the names of those they suspected were flying as part of the Air Flotilla “Welcome to Palestine” campaign.

Here is a copy of the letter sent by Israeli authorities to European airport authorities:
Letter sent by Israeli authorities to European airports to prevent boarding of suspected Air Flotilla participants

The Air Flotilla participants intend to tell Israeli passport control agents that the purpose of their visit is to go to Bethlehem [in the occupied West Bank].

And, here is a copy of the letter that Israeli authorities intend to distribute, in various languages, to mock Air Flotilla participants:
Israeli letter to be distributed to Air Flotilla participants

PA says only journalists with PA Press Cards can cover major Bethelehem Christmas events

This is something I found out quite accidentally, in a discussion yesterday with a Palestinian official in Ramallah about the lack of reciprocity in Israeli-Palestinian relations [including Press accreditation for media]:

This year, for the first time since the Israeli conquest in the June 1967 war, it seems journalists holding ONLY Israeli GPO press cards [UPDATE] MAY encounter slight problems in covering Christmas events in Bethlehem…

However, yesterday, I was informed by the Palestinian official I discussed the matter with that “Anyone who thinks that they can come to cover the Bethlehem Christmas events this year with just an Israeli GPO card [and without a PA Press Card] is in for a big surprise … I will personally escort him/her back to the checkpoint”.

This morning, to clarify this surprising change, I phoned Ghassan Khatib, Director of the PA Government Media Center in Ramallah.

[Ghassan Khatib was for years the head of the JMCC [Jerusalem Media and Communications Center], based in East Jerusalem until the closure of Jerusalem to most Palestinians, and he continues to be editor of the weekly Bitterlemons online publication. Khatib also served as the PA Minister of Planning, and formerly as PA Minister of Labor, and then as the Vice-President of Bir Zeit University just outside Ramallah.]

He replied to my question about the new requirement for PA Press Cards this way: “Um, Well, Why not?”

Khatib added that this is standard practice in every place [country] in the world — to require specific press accreditation for coverage of major events.

Was there notification of this new policy?

“A statement was distributed to all journalists”, Khatib replied.

This statement was issued jointly, Khatib added, by the PA Government Media Center, by the PA Ministry of Tourism, and by the Bethlehem Municipality.

But, though I have a Palestinian [PA] Press Card, and have had for several years — and though I have several times requested to be added to the PA Government Media Center’s email distribution list — I have not ever received any of the PA Government Media Center’s emails or statements…

Khatib, who recalled one of my requests during an interview with him, in his office, in September, said he would look into it.

[During that interview, in September, Khatib suggested that he was thinking of doing away with the PA Press Cards, and wondered if they served any useful purpose…I argued that they were very important, even essential, especially in combat and conflict zones, and most particularly when crossing checkpoints and dealing with various security officials …]

I asked, what are the restrictions that will be imposed, exactly? Will holders of Israeli GPO cards only be able to enter Bethlehem but just not the Church of the Nativity? Can they go elsewhere as well? And, will this new requirement for a PA Press Card be for a limited duration of time? If so, will it just be for this holiday season, and if so, for how long?

Khatib said he did not know the answer to these questions, and either he or another official in his office would get back to me within 30 minutes — but so far this has not happened.

So, I called a Palestinian journalist friend — who happens to be in Bethlehem from now through the weekend — who downplayed the whole thing, saying that the PA statement said merely that having a PA Press
Card would “facilitate” the movement of journalists, and that there might be “inconveniences” otherwise.

[N.B. — This is not how it was phrased yesterday by one official in a position to know… However, this official indicated there MIGHT be exceptions made “if we know the person, and if we have worked with him/her before”]

    It was learned later on Thursday that the information below is incorrect [see information further down:
    However, the Palestinian journalist friend told me this afternoon that there is a PA Government Media Center presence now set up in Bethlehem, just outside the Church of Nativity, across from the Police Station in Manger Square, which will, among other things, issue PA press cards during the upcoming 2011 Christmas events…

UPDATE: The information above is not correct, it was later learned: the PLO Negotiations Support media team — and not the PA Government Media Center headed by Ghassan Khatib — has set up the presence in Bethlehem, just outside the Church, and across from the Police Station, and PA Press Cards cannot be issued there…

UPDATE TWO [Saturday 24 December]: For journalists who may need help or assistance, there is a phone contact for the Christmas Media Center for JOURNALISTS at Nativity Square in Bethlehem, which just came by SMS: 0598999769 .

Meantime, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, his Advisor Jamal Zakout, and his Media Unit team sent out a Season’s Greeting wishing “all our fellow Journalists a Happy Holiday season. May the year 2012 bring joy, prosperity, success and more freedom of press. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” …

Bethlehem behind Israel's Wall

This is the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank.

Israel built this Wall.

It was a unilateral decision, and a unilateral implementation of this decision.

A member of the Israeli military (IDF Col. Danny Tirza) chose the route of this Wall, almost all by himself…

Photos taken by Xavier Abu Eid, and posted on Facebook:

The Wall in Bethlehem

Photo of The Wall in Bethlehem by Xavier Abu Eid

Bethelehem behind Israel's Wall

Freedom - written on The Wall in Bethlehem

Please, don’t say you didn’t know…

Palestinians begin to express opposition as OECD tourism meeting opens in Jerusalem

Palestinians have started to express objections and opposition to an OECD meeting that opened yesterday in Jerusalem — after months of public announcements and preparations.

The OECD – Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – is a Paris-based international organization grouping economically-developed countries who are also considered “democracies”.

A public meeting has been called in Ramallah this afternoon to discuss the international law aspects of the meeting.

The decision to convene the tourism conference in Jerusalem was announced in mid-June — four months ago.   It takes months and months of preparations to hold such a conference.

Why did it take the Palestinians so long to organize their response?   The conference was already in its second day when Palestinian officials called for its cancellation…

Continue reading Palestinians begin to express opposition as OECD tourism meeting opens in Jerusalem

Journalists get mad

A group of Palestinian journalists in Bethlehem are mad as hell — and they aren’t going to take it any more (?)

Ma’an News Agency reported today that as a result of what happened at a demonstration at the main Bethlehem checkpoint yesterday (see our earlier report here, protesters and journalists were hit from both sides), “reporters will officially hand over a letter to the PA demanding that those security officers suspected of assaulting journalists be reprimanded. If the PA fails to respond to the letter, journalists say they will boycott all Palestinian official visits in Bethlehem during Easter, particularly that of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Abdul Nasser An-Najjar, head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, told Ma’an that he and the body’s secretary-general fully support the protest. On Monday, PA and Israeli forces cracked down on protesters at a Bethlehem rally who were voicing dissent against the continued detention of the Palm Sunday detainees [a group of 10 Palestinians who were arrested on Sunday while trying to go to Jerusalem for Palm Sunday religious observances, but without a permit]… Journalists said PA forces not only prevented them from covering the rally, but assaulted members of the press. Heated arguments ensued between journalists covering the incident and PA forces, resulting in a sit-in near Rachel’s Tomb by journalists”. This story can be read in full here.

The main Gilo checkpoint into and out of Bethlehem was reportedly closed today until further notice.

The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee issued a communiqué today by email giving this report:
“Fifteen demonstrators were arrested by Israeli forces during a peaceful demonstration near Rachel’s Tomb last Sunday, protesting Israeli violations of Palestinian freedom of religion and lack of access to Jerusalem. The demonstrators marked Palm Sunday and demanded to exercise the centuries old Christian tradition of pilgrimage to Jerusalem on that day … After soldiers tried to stop the procession at a checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem near Rachel’s Tomb, demonstrators overwhelmed the few soldiers positioned there with their numbers, and peacefully continued to march towards Jerusalem. [Another account said that a group of demonstrators surprised the Israeli Border Police who were massed on the Jerusalem side by turning to the side and passing through a huge sliding metal gate that was opened to allow the passage of Israeli military vehicles, but no mention of that in this communiqué…] They were, however, stopped by a large contingent of Israeli Police officers a few hundred meters into Jerusalem. When the crowed could not advance farther, a number of Palestinian dignitaries held speeches, after which the protesters began retreating back towards Bethlehem. It was at that point, that the police began its unprovoked assault at the demonstrators, making fifteen arrests, including those of Abbas Zaki of the PLO Executive Committee, four members of local popular committees and an AP photographer. Abbas Zaki is one of the most prominent Palestinian leaders to have been arrested in grassroots demonstrations in recent years … All demonstrators were arrested under the exact same circumstances, and on the same suspicions. The four Israelis and one international detained during the incident, were released that same evening. The Palestinians, however, were subjected to much harsher treatment. The police extended the arrest of all ten of them by 96 hours, which are likely to be extended by another 96 hours even before they will be brought before a judge. While Israelis and internationals are, as a matter of policy, subject to Israeli law, which only allows for a 24 hours detention by the police, Palestinians are subject to Israeli Military Law, which allows for their detention for a period of eight days before being brought in front of a judge … The Army had also used concussion grenades to disperse a demonstration in support of the ten arrestees in Bethlehem today. One demonstrator was lightly injured after a grenade hit his back”.

Meanwhile, other Palestinian journalists are mad as hell because some of their colleagues accepted an invitation by The Israel Project media advocacy organization to spend a day in Tel Aviv, cafe-hopping, being invited to lunch, shopping in malls, and meeting with an Arabic-language-speaking IDF spokesman… This is reported by Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=172106here. One of the Palestinian invitees was teased about it, but in a supportive way, by one of his close friends on Facebook last week…

Hit from both sides: Israeli forces and PA security attack demonstrators in Bethlehem

On Palm Sunday, Palestinian and other protestors tried to march from Bethlehem to Jerusalem without permits — saying that they should not need permits to visit holy sites and attend religious services in Jerusalem.

According to information received by email, “The march, which began after the Palm Sunday service at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, was held to protest a recent aggravation of Israeli restrictions on movement through the checkpoint. Protesters [reportedly about 200] aimed to highlight restrictions on access to Jerusalem on the day marking Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem in Christian tradition”.

Another message said that” The demonstrators marked Palm Sunday and demanded to exercise the centuries old Christian tradition of pilgrimage to Jerusalem on that day …  While Israelis and internationals are, as a matter of policy, subject to Israeli law, which only allows for a 24 hours detention by the police, Palestinians are subject to Israeli Military Law, which allows for their detention for a period of eight days before being brought in front of a judge”…

Four Israeli demonstrators and one international were released more or less straight away, the same evening.  About a eleven others were Palestinians, however — and they were sent to Ofer prison not far from the Qalandia Checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah.  The Palestinians will be held in prison for at least another four days (including over the first holy days of Passover on Monday night and Tuesday), and their detention could be extended once again.

A second protest march was organized today near the main Bethelehm Checkpoint (“300”, or “Rachel’s Tomb”), and Ma’an News Agency has reported that “Israeli soldiers manning the military installation fired tear-gas canisters and stun grenades toward protesters who, in turn, retaliated by pelting empty bottles and stones … [Then] Confrontations further erupted near Rachel’s Tomb when PA forces intervened in the march, attacking protesters.  Heated arguments ensued between journalists covering the incident and PA forces.  Journalists began a sit-in near the tomb as a result.  Fatah’s Bethlehem spokesman Muhammad Lahham told Ma’an that ‘Palestinian security behaved improperly, and despite the fact that we take into account security agreements with Israeli authorities, such assaults against journalists and protesters are never justified”.  This report can be read in full here.

Meanwhile, YNet is reporting that “Israel will allow a shipment of clothes and shoes to be delivered to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip for the first time in its almost three-year-old tight blockade of the enclave, Palestinian officials said on Monday. They said the first 10 truckloads would be arriving via the Israeli-controlled Gaza border point on Thursday … Israel prohibits shipments of cement and steel to Gaza on the grounds that Hamas could use them for military purposes. Its long list of controlled goods also includes items that critics say have no apparent military value, such as children’s crayons and books. Gaza has been getting most of its consumer goods via tunnels from neighboring Egypt operated by smugglers who add on hefty surcharges. Gaza merchants said 10 truckloads would not fill their stocks and demanded that Israel release goods long held in its sea ports. Egypt is building an underground wall to block the tunnels, which have been frequently bombed by the Israeli air forces”… This report is posted here.

And, U.S. President Barack Obama has sent out a Passover message to Jews around the world, saying that: “The enduring story of the Exodus teaches us that, wherever we live, there is oppression to be fought and freedom to be won. In retelling this story from generation to generation, we are reminded of our ongoing responsibility to fight against all forms of suffering and discrimination, and we reaffirm the ties that bind us all. These bonds are the source of inextinguishable courage and strength, and provide hope that we can repair this world”… Obama’s statement is reported in full in the Jerusalem Post here.

Tel Aviv Judge agrees to hold hearing in Jared Malsin deportation case

After considering both the Israeli State Prosecutor’s request and the response of American editor and journalist Jared Malsin, who has been detained at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport since last Tuesday afternoon (a full week ago), Tel Aviv Judge Kobi Vardi said that he saw a basis for an appeal, and said he would set a hearing.

It is not yet clear when the hearing, which could be public, will be held. It could be later today, or in the next two days. After that, it will be the weekend again in Israel, and the Jewish Sabbath, and no official activity would take place again until Sunday.

Jared works as the editor of the English-language pages of the website of Ma’an News Agency, a privately-owned and -operated Palestinian organization which was launched with funding by European donors and which has a reputation of being independent in relation to Palestinian political factions.

Ma’an (meaning “Together”) is based in Bethlehem, which is enclosed behind The Wall — which is an 8-meter high concrete structure with higher military watchtowers — reachable behind one of the more formidable Israeli checkpoints known as Checkpoint 300, or the Rachel’s Tomb Checkpoint. Cars must go through multiple inspection points, each equipped with metal spikes that can destroy a vehicle’s tires if activated. Pedestrians must line up in long narrow wire enclosures, and pass numerous machine and manual inspections — for men, this usually involves taking off their shoes and belts, if not more. Checkpoint 300 (manned by the Israeli Border Police, who have a particularly unpleasant reputation, under the ultimate control of the better-trained, more level-headed and rational Israeli military. At the final point where crossing is allowed, Checkpoint 300 also has an enormous sliding metal gate that can be shut, closing passage off completely.

It is not possible to pass through this, or any other, Israeli military checkpoint without “permission” and clearance. For Palestinians, this means having a special permit (some of the terms of some of the permits are almost laughable — for example, a three-hour permit to go for a hospital examination in Jerusalem) which can be rescinded at the whim of any authorized Israeli at the checkpoint. For internationals, this means having a passport with a valid Israeli visa.

It was to renew his Israeli tourist visa — the only kind he could get in the present circumstances — that Jared Malsin travelled to the Czech Republic, together with his long-time girlfriend Faith Rowold, who had been working as a volunteer for the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, and who had an Israeli-issued church volunteer visa for that purpose. Upon their return, they were surprised to find themselves under detention.

They were travelling on Israel’s El Al Airline, which is notorious for its security checks sparked by ethnic and other profiling. Jared and Faith were subjected to extra measures even before boarding the plane for the return flight. Upon their arrival at Ben Gurion, they were separated, and faced eight hours of interrogation — which apparently included an airport security internet search of articles that Jared had written, and of material that Ma’an published (Ma’an has websites in three languages: Arabic, English, and Hebrew — and it’s probable that airport security paid more attention to the Hebrew website, which has a different editor, and different content.)

It was a very unfortunate coincidence that Jared and Faith were returning from the Czech Republic just as Eva Novakova, a volunteer solidarity activist who had worked with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) that is particularly annoying to, and despised by, the Israeli Government, was returning after being deported herself from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport at 6 am the same morning. Eva, who had been living in an apartment near Manara Square in the very heart of downtown Ramallah, where there are always Palestinian security forces present, had been arrested in an Israeli military raid and turned over to Israeli immigration officials. Eva had been serving for the previous three weeks as the ISM media coordinator. The grounds for her expulsion from Israel (she had been living in Ramallah) was an expired visa.

It is more than possible that El Al security, and their colleagues in the Israeli Airport Security at Ben Gurion Airport, suspected that this was somehow all coordinated — even though there is no way that Jared and Faith could realistically have known that Eva was being deported that same morning.

Though the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, and its American Citizens Services as well as U.S. Consular officials were all involved in the cases, Faith was deported from Israel 48 hours later. Jared, for whom Ma’an had retained a lawyer, was detained pending a review by the Israeli judicial system.

The decision today by Tel Aviv Judge Kobi Vardi to call for a hearing is a positive development, Ma’an colleagues say. At least, he did not agree with the charges presented, and order Jared’s immediate expulsion. (However, neither did the judge reject the charges, and order Jared’s release from detention and entry into Israel.)

According to Ma’an colleagues, Judge Vardi expresed concern with the accusation by Israeli security, apparently accepted at face value by the Israeli Ministry of Interior, that Jared “refused to cooperate.”

Such an accusation covers, however, a wide latitude of possible circumstances.

It also makes it seem as though the accusations against Jared were taken more as a disciplinary measure — a “we’ll show him” step — rather than as a matter of law, or regulations, or because of any real security concern.

A hearing — which could be public — allows for full examination of the accusation and the defense. It is not known if the judge will agree to Jared’s presence in his own defense, or — if the hearing will not be immediate — if Jared could be released on some kind of bail.

Ma’an colleagues reported a few days ago that one of the arguments presented by the Israeli Attorney General’s office against holding a hearing of the case against Jared, was that it would change his status and make it more difficult to deport him.

In fact, in order to appear before the judge, Jared would, in effect, have to be given entry into Israel.

Israeli prosecutor still has not filed charges against American editor working for Ma'an News Agency in Palestinian city of Bethlehem

Just before 2pm, according to colleagues at Ma’an News Agency in Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli prosecutor still had not filed charges to authorize the deportation of Jared Malsin, an American graduate of Yale University who was working as editor of Ma’an’s English-language website.

UPDATE: An hour later, and the Israeli Attorney General’s office still has not filed charges — though it has apparently informed the lawyer retained by Ma’an that they will do so soon. This could happen at any time. To me this seems like good news — maybe it is now realized that this deportation would be a big mistake, and wrong. However, Ma’an colleagues apparently fear that it is not good news. In any case, this of course does keep pressure on Jared — who unfortunately remains in dismal detention. However, it also does mean there will not be a formal court hearing today. If the charges are filed after court hours, the judge could apparently take a decision at any time to deport or to release Jared — that could still happen this evening or tonight, or it could be tomorrow, or even some days later…

Jared was detained at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport last Tuesday afternoon, and denied immediate re-entry, when he returned from a short trip to the Czech Republic that took to renew the normal tourist visa that he had previously been given, and under which he had been functioning.

Because the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), which is part of the Prime Minister’s office, does not recognize Ma’an as a news organization (a privately-owned and -operated Palestinian company), no Ma’an employee was granted an Israeli press card.

The Israeli GPO press card is required to get a journalist visa from Israel (which is, effectively, a variety of tourist visa (the Israeli journalist visa has two parts: a residency permit and a work permit) as a news organization).

A valid Israeli visa is required to enter the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Therefore, Jared and others like him have been obliged to come and go on an ordinary tourist visa.

He remains in detention for a fifth day.

Israeli interrogators at Ben Gurion Airport have said Jared should be deported for “lying”.

The interrogators added accusations that Jared had been “uncooperative with the investigation”, and had “unclear reasons for travelling to Israel”. In addition, the interrogators reported to the state prosecutor, Jared had “violated the terms of his visa”.

In their initial statments, the Israeli security agents who interrogated Jared said that they had googled Ma’an reporting and found that it was anti-Israel, according to a report by Ma’an News Agency, which said that the lawyer it had retained to defend Jared had been given Hebrew-language transcripts of his interrogation, in which Israeli security agents stated they had “gathered online research into the journalist’s writing history, which the transcripts indicate included news stories ‘criticizing the State of Israel’. Othercharges initially presented by the security interrogators were that Jared had “authored articles inside the territories”.

However, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mark Regev told the BBC later that “allegations that the decision [to detain Jared in preparation for deportation] was because of Mr Malsin’s journalism were ‘simply absurd’.”

Journalists are not the only ones facing the conundrum.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans and Europeans who are in Israel and the Palestinian territory now, working for Non-governmental or Church-affiliated organizations who have pumped millions and millions of dollars into their work here — and who are not participating in actions that Israel deems a security threat, such as demonstrations against The Wall — but who have had to be coached by their organizations on what to say and what not to say (in effect, to “lie”), so that they will be able to satisfy Israeli questioners at Ben Gurion airport, said one American who is well acquainted with the situation here — because, she said, they face an unpleasant and difficult and costly deportation if they say they have anything to do with the Palestinians.

Jared’s long-time girlfriend, Faith Rowold, an American volunteer for the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem who has held a valid Israeli-issued Church volunteer visa (another variety of tourist visa) for two years, according to a colleague at Ma’an, was travelling with Jared. Though her volunteer visa was normally expected to be valid for another three months, the colleague said, Faith was deported from Israel back to the Czech Republic on Thursday morning.

Though Faith apparently agreed to depart without a court challenge — she may have been unable to arrange for legal representation — her passport was, nevertheless, stamped by Israeli authorites with the red-flag phrase: “Denied Entry”.

Israeli court to hear deportation case of American editor working for Palestinian news agency

Ma’an News Agency reported on Saturday that “According to court documents filed on Thursday evening, signed by an interrogator at Ben Gurion International Airport, Jared [Malsin, editor of the Ma’an English website] was denied entry for the following reasons:

1) Refusal to cooperate
2) Lying to border officials
3) Reasons for arriving unclear
4) Violated visa terms
5) Entered Israel by means of lies

This was posted on the Ma’an website here.

"We didn't know he was a journalist" + "There was no security concern" — so why detention pending deporation?

This story gets better and better [do I have to say, “irony alert“?].

“There was no security concern”, an Israeli official said about the detention since Tuesday in difficult and uncertain conditions of an American journalist who is awaiting a deportation hearing on Sunday — and the deportation that was carried out already of his girlfriend.

So, these actions must be a form of disciplinary measure…

Continue reading "We didn't know he was a journalist" + "There was no security concern" — so why detention pending deporation?