Dangerous murders of Israeli settler family in Itamar near Nablus, dangerous reprisals against Palestinians. But where is proof of Palestinian guilt?

Five members of an Israeli family — including both parents and an infant — living in the northern West Bank settlement of Itamar, not far from Nablus, were brutally murdered in their home on Friday night.

The bodies were discovered when their 12-year-old daughter returned home. Two boys (ages 2 and 6) may have survived, according to unclear Israeli media reports in English.

The northern West Bank was put under lock-down.

All top Israeli officials have called for condemnation of this heinous crime, and said it must be punished and revenged.

Revenge has been and is being carried out against Palestinians.

But, so far, little to no proof of any Palestinian involvement has emerged.

There are footprints, reportedly, leading from a point where the Itamar security system was apparently breached … to the Palestinian village of Awarta.

UPDATE: By March 16, no one — not even a Palestinian — had been charged with the murder, despite intensive Israeli investigations. Awarta is still under lock-down. Thai workers who live in Itamar were reportedly rounded up for interrogation, and there were strong rumors that one of them, who had worked for the family and who was owed 10,000 or 20,000 shekels, was suspected, but there are still no charges against anyone…. At least one Israeli report indicated that the house was still locked from the inside when the murders were discovered. Everybody who was asked and even those who were not asked had dutifully and also sincerely denounced the murders. But those who believe that it was an act of terror committed by Palestinians, well, they still believe it. (See comment below). And, reprisals by settlers against Palestinians are continuing…

UPDATE TWO: The IDF lifted the lock-down on Awarta on Wednesday, more than five days after it began. Reports now indicate that some 40 residents are still being detained.

UPDATE THREE: The Board of the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel has issued a statement saying that it “is deeply disturbed that Israeli officials are once again accusing the international media of being biased against Israel. In the latest instance, officials attending a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday dredged up ancient and unfounded conspiracy theories about an 11-year-old case [the death of Muhammad al-Durra, killed while crouching beside his father beside a concrete block in a hail of gunfire in Gaza] and without providing any evidence, tried to equate it to coverage of the weekend knife attack in Itamar. We strongly urge Israeli officials to refrain from making unsubstantiated blanket statements against the international media — a diverse group of hundreds of journalists from around the world — and encourage parliament to seek out more credible witnesses in the future”…

The FPA statement is apparently a reference to remarks made at a Knesset committee on (Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs) this week by Danny Seaman, who served for ten years as head of the Israeli Government Press Office and who is now the Deputy Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Information. The Knesset Committee Chairperson, Danny Danon of Likud, reportedly said — according to an account apparently compiled by the Committee spokesperson — that a court battle concerning the film footage of the Gaza gunbattle between the IDF and Palestinian policemen, pursued by French Jewish businessman Philippe Karsenty (now running for the French Parliament, who was present and who was one of those addressing the Knesset hearing this week) “succeeded in proving provocation and conspiracy by foreign journalists. ‘Our enemies have no problem using unacceptable and dishonest means to attack us, so that cases like this where it is possible to reveal the truth are very important for the battle over the legitimacy of the State of Israel’. Danny Seaman, who said he became convinced after his own lengthy investigation that the video footage of the shoot-out in Gaza had been at least in part staged, and who has previously spoken publicly about this in various fora for several years, told the Knesset Committee that he now also believes “there is a direct link between the position taken by the French media on the Muhammad al-Durrah incident that seeks to represent Israel as murderers of children, and their failure to cover the terrible massacre in Itamar”.

From here, it is hard to see that there was any lack of coverage of the murders of five members of the Fogel family in Itamar (much less that this is due to French television’s report on the death of Muhammad al-Durra — though Karsenty has even questioned whether or not the Palestinian child’s death was faked as well). However, it is true that the top news worldwide in the past week has been the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, followed by continuing events in Libya and Bahrain.

Meanwhile, no Israeli government official has yet said explicitly that Palestinians committed the murders in Itamar, either, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded that the Palestinian Authority leadership must explicitly condemn the killings — and must also end what he said was a “campaign of incitement” against Israel…

Continue reading “Dangerous murders of Israeli settler family in Itamar near Nablus, dangerous reprisals against Palestinians. But where is proof of Palestinian guilt?”

On the Israeli GPO director's reported remarks concerning foreign journalists + a journalist visa

During yesterday’s annual reception for the foreign press in Israel hosted by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office (and, as part of the event, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu gave a press conference, see our earlier post on this site), a note posted on Twitter by the CNN correspondent in Jerusalem, Kevin Flower, reported that “Israel Minister for Public diplomacy now speaking..says processing of visas for foreign journalists will become ‘more user-friendly’.”

Today, the Jerusalem Post is reporting that “The Government Press Office is pushing for the introduction of a US-style journalist visa for foreign reporters, as part of a bid to filter out political activists posing as media employees, The Jerusalem Post has learned”. The article adds that “The GPO is concerned that foreign members of political nongovernmental organizations and political activists attempt to deceive immigration authorities by claiming that they are working as journalists”.

Is that what U.S. visa regulations for journalists are supposed to do? Is it what they actually do?

Continue reading “On the Israeli GPO director's reported remarks concerning foreign journalists + a journalist visa”

Jared Malsin said he was tricked by Israeli guards, and thought the paper he signed was part of his lawyer's strategy

In a report just published prominently on the Ma’an News Agency website, Jared Malsin — the editor of Ma’an’s English-language website, who was deported/left voluntarily to the United States from Israel’s Ben Gurion airport yesterday — explained that he thought the document he signed the previous day was part of his lawyer’s legal move to allow him to leave the country while legal proceedings appeal.

Jared had, by that time, spent 8 days in detention at Ben Gurion Airport while contesting a decision to deny him re-entry into the country after a short trip to the Czech Republic, with his long-time girlfriend, Faith Rowold, an American volunteer for the Lutheran Church who had been working in Bethlehem. Faith was deported 48 hours after being denied re-entry.

Jared signed the document offered to him, and composed an additional note at the request of an Israeli official — apparently in the belief that this was part of his own legal strategy.

However, Jared’s attorney was not present, Jared did not discuss the document with the attorney before signing, and — from the published accounts, at least — the attorney, Castro Daoud, apparently had no access to Jared before his deportation.

The Ma’an News Agency report that was just published says that the document Jared signed was presented “two hours after his lawyer left him for the day”.

Ma’an’s story quotes Jared as saying: ” ‘I had no idea I was waving anything, no clue’, he said, explaining Israeli officials asked him to create a legal document to withdraw his case without an attorney present, and offered a misleading explanation over what he was signing. Malsin said he wrote a note indicating that he was leaving the facility ‘without personal coercion’ … After writing a hand-written letter that Malsin said he believed was a ‘formality’, the Ministry staff sent the paper to Jusice Kobi Vardi, who presided over Malsin’s case, and the judge decided to lift the stay of deportation order … as he was transported to the plane, however, Malsin said he had no idea there were legal implications to the paper. ‘I’m just so relieved to be out’, he said … ‘None of this was my decision’, he emphasized in a phone interview minutes after arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York early Thursday morning local time, rejecting reports that he left Israel voluntarily. ‘There’s no such thing as a voluntary deportation. I was deported, period’ … In an e-mail from Malsin to Ma’an staff sent upon his arrival to his parent’s home in New Hampshire, he said, about the paper, ‘I thought it was a formality. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t signed it. I believe the prison guards were extremely manipulative, misleading, mendacious in the way they dealt with me’.”

The Ma’an account added that “Malsin said he was under the impression that the papers he signed would allow him to leave the airport while his case continued. Indeed, Daoud, had filed the motion in Tel Aviv shortly before Malsin was instructed to sign the papers. Justice Vardi had called for a hearing on Malsin’s case on Tuesday, and when no date was set for the proceedings by the afternoon, Malsin and Daoud decided to seek permission for him to leave the detention center as the hearing went forward. Daoud had previously indicated concern that Malsin’s case was being dragged out, putting pressure on the journalist to leave before a legal decision was made”.

[A separate account, part of an updated press release that Ma’an also has posted on its website, here, does not contain the full comments from the email Jared sent after his arrival in New Hampshire…]

Meanwhile, it is interesting that the Jerusalem Post is reporting today that “The Government Press Office is pushing for the introduction of a US-style journalist visa for foreign reporters, as part of a bid to filter out political activists posing as media employees, The Jerusalem Post has learned”. The JPost story today adds that “The GPO is concerned that foreign members of political nongovernmental organizations and political activists attempt to deceive immigration authorities by claiming that they are working as journalists. Some activists offer their services to foreign media outlets, and then claim they are journalists. A journalist visa would require foreign citizens who say they are journalists to demonstrate their qualifications, and to prove that they worked for a news agency before arriving in Israel,” GPO Director Danny Seamen [sic – he spells his name in English this way: Seaman] said”. This JPost story can be read in full here.

"Spoiled crybabies"

This would be hilarious, if it weren’t so serious: Dion Nissenbaum wrote on his blog yesterday that “When the head of the Israeli Government Press Office tells The Jerusalem Post that there was no ban on journalists entering Gaza during the recent military operation, the appropriate response would be to laugh … One can argue about why there was a ban, but there is no denying that Israel barred journalists from entering Gaza during the war. It is harder to disprove claims that 9/11 was a US government conspiracy than to demonstrate that Israel imposed a ban on journalists entering Gaza … [And] if there was no ban on reporters entering Gaza, then Israel’s high court spent a lot of time and energy debating an illusion. The wisest legal scholars in Israel must be demented to have actually issued a ruling tossing out the non-existent ban”.

Dion dumps on the JPost, and then takes on Danny Seaman, saying that he has “every right to argue that reporters are Hamas sympathizers” (though Danny Seaman did not make that argument, as far as I have seen — nor does the fact that a couple of American news organizations that Dion named, including his own, might be looking into a Hamas crackdown on Fatah rivals disprove it, contrary to Dion’s suggestion). Dion says that “Danny Seaman also can’t be blamed for trying to belittle reporters now in Gaza as ‘spoiled crybabies’ who are a ‘disgrace to the profession’. If he thinks that’s the best way to approach his job, that’s the Israeli government’s prerogative” …

Coming to one of the main points, Dion tackles what we questioned in our earlier post here, when we wrote that Danny “really should be asked to explain exactly where and how he thought more-intrepid journalists could have entered the Gaza Strip, which has been practically hermetically sealed by the IDF since Israel’s unilateral ‘disengagement’ in 2005“.

Dion writes: “Danny Seaman argues that any reporters who were willing to put in ‘a little effort’ could have gotten into Gaza. But, so far as I can tell, the only way for reporters to get into Gaza for most of the war would have been to use one of the smuggler tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. And, considering that Israel was repeatedly bombing the tunnels during the war, they probably were not the most reliable route into Gaza. (Though one can guess that Danny Seaman probably would not have shed many tears for Fig Leaf Reporters buried alive by Israeli bombers.) Reporters were repeatedly prevented from entering Gaza through any of the Israeli land borders. An Israeli Naval boat rammed one boat from Larnaca carrying reporters trying to get into Gaza. Then Israeli ships fired warning shots to prevent a second boat full of journalists from breaking the Israeli Naval blockade. Egypt did not let any reporters into Gaza until the final days of the war. And that came only after journalists had jumped through a series of bureaucratic hoops in Cairo. The Israeli military brought a few selected reporters into Gaza for a few hours to see things from their perspective. It is true that no reporters tried to parachute into Gaza. Nor did any journalist I know explore the possibility of taking a hang glider into Gaza … In this regard, the journalistic community of ‘spoiled crybabies’ was indeed negligent. Perhaps, with a little more effort, reporters could have catapulted into Gaza”. Dion’s blog post on Danny Seaman’s remarks and the JPost coverage of them can be viewed in full here.

Dion also mentions, as we did earlier, the case of Amira Hass, who entered Gaza from the sea, on board the second Free Gaza expedition from Cyprus, writing: “And if, as Danny Seaman told The Jerusalem Post, Israel never arrested anyone for entering Gaza, that will come as welcome relief to Amira Hass, the Israeli journalist who was arrested for entering Gaza”. A comment made on Dion’s blog post, from “Bob” — who actually sounds rather a lot like Danny Seaman — says: “Dion, Amira entered illegally and is barred by a law which prohibits Israeli citizens from entering Gaza due to the danger of abduction – and she fled Gaza because she was threatened by Hamas just to prove the point. No foreigner has been arrested for entering Gaza. But this is very typical of your reporting to forget such ‘minor’ details that completely disprove your opinion. Maybe that is why even fewer people read your blog than the JP [JPost]… Why am I reading this?”

As Danny Seaman told me earlier, when I was preparing my story, if Amira were to be kidnapped while in Gaza, “that’s the last thing we need — she’s an Israeli, and the Government of Israel would have to negotiate for her release”.

This comes after a Brigade Commander was reported in the Israeli media to have instructed his troops to fall on a grenade if they were about to be kidnapped — death is preferable, and maybe some of the adversaries would be killed too, the Commander said — to avoid becoming another Gilad Shalit (who, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly said earlier tonight, is still alive, despite the three-week Israeli military offensive in Gaza).

And, meanwhile, Amira Hass — no “spoiled crybaby” — is back in Gaza, she told me when I called her this afternoon. How did she get there? “I have my ways”, she giggled…

Israeli Supreme Court: "international journalists must have access to Gaza"

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) allowed the foreign press access to Gaza via the Erez crossing starting last Friday — perhaps in anticipation of a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court that was handed down today. (The Erez crossing was then closed for the Jewish Shabat on Friday at 2 pm until Sunday at 8 am.)

Or, maybe it was the Israeli Government Press Office that finally lifted its objection …

The whole thing is a little peculiar: if Gaza really is a separate entity, and entirely separate from Israel, as Israeli government policy claims, then the press corps should have been able to enter Gaza freely. But, as many if not most international law experts believe that Gaza is still under Israeli control, and still occupied, then the press should not have been banned, either…

The Foreign Press Association petitioned the Court after access was denied for all but a few days since 4 November.

Tonight, the FPA informed its members that “Today the Israeli Supreme Court endorsed the FPA position that international journalists must have access to the Gaza strip. Below is the key sentence in the court’s ruling today, severely limiting the State’s ability to close the Erez Crossing to foreign media. Our lawyers believe this ruling creates an important precedent for the future. ‘In view of the clarifications given (to the Court) and the statement made by the State, we, the Court, see no reason for an injunction and we hereby instruct that the arrangement announced by the State (status quo ante of November 4th 2008) will be upheld unless the security situation changes drastically in a way the the Erez crossing has to be closed completely for security reasons, and we (the Supreme Court) assume that this will happen only in dire circumstances of concrete danger.”

Danny Seaman, the Director of Israel’s Government Press Office (part of the Prime Minister’s Office) — and no stuffed shirt — then reportedly told the Jerusalem Post that the international press were a bunch of “spoiled crybabies” who hadn’t actually tried very hard to get into Gaza. But, he really should be asked to explain exactly where and how he thought more-intrepid journalists could have entered the Gaza Strip, which has been practically hermetically sealed by the IDF since Israel’s unilateral “disengagement” in 2005.

Danny Seaman made no secret of the fact that he didn’t think the journalists should be in Gaza while the IDF was there.

UPDATE: At a decent hour on Monday (after writing this late into the night on Sunday and overnight), I put in a phone call to Danny Seaman, and he explained the following:
1.) There was a slight misinterpretation from the Hebrew, and what he actually said was that the journalists were “whiners”, and not “spoiled crybabies”. As to where and how journalists could have gotten in to Gaza, he cited the case of the Italian journalist working for Corriere della Sera (Lorenzo Cremonesi, see our earlier post here) and said that the press could have “made the effort” to get in through Rafah. As to the fact that not every journalist had the budget or the ability to leave to see if it might be possible to get into Gaza through Rafah, Danny Seaman said “that’s not our problem”. It was not clear that it would be possible, and it did take some persuasion, as Dion Nissenbaum has recounted, and as we have mentioned in our earlier post here. Other journalists, like CNN’s Ben Wedeman, also with a big organization behind him, also had to spend a lot of time, and money, to secure the ability to get in.
By the way, once Israel did open Erez to international journalists, the IDF said that only journalists who had entered through Erez could leave and come back to Israel through Erez, so all these guys who went in through the Egyptian Sinai will have to go back out the same way, which is more time-consuming and expensive. It also may or may not be more dangerous, depending on the day, the hour, and the minute — but that is not the issue.
2.) Danny Seaman said that what has happened in the past few days shows that the policy of keeping the “foreign press” out of Gaza was right to begin with — and, he said, he had been warned that the international press would be “settling scores” with Israel once they did get inside Gaza. “Now, hundreds of journalists are inside Gaza and all trying to compete to find stories of atrocities from different Palestinians, without verifying … without the context (Hamas’ behavior and firing from among civilians, for example), without getting the Israeli version, and without an Israeli response”. He said that some are even reporting what are “blood libels” against Israel, and exhibiting “horrible behavior” — and cited some reporting that IDF tanks deliberately ran over Palestinian children, which I have not seen or heard. He said that “Israel is an open democratic society with extreme criticism when necessary”, so that if anybody had deliberately run over Palestinian children, this would have made it into the media.
I observed that it has not been very productive to try to get the Israeli version or the Israeli response — any request to the IDF for comment gets either one of two responses: either “we have not received any formal complaint about that incident”, or “that is the subject of an internal investigation and we cannot comment”. But Danny Seaman said that “Israel hides nothing — there never has been a documented case where Israel deliberately and knowingly lied to the media”. He returned to his accusation that the press has been reporting the Palestinian accusations “at face value, without reporting how Hamas conducts itself, giving the deliberate impression of brutal Israeli actions without context”. He said that homes have been used to store weapons, and according to “evidence from the people we apprehended (during the military operation in Gaza), they were ordered to fire from civilian areas”. I noted that we haven’t seen any of this evidence. And, he said, “last week when we fired at the building housing Ramattan Television, a woman reporter from Al-Arabiyya had just said on the air that militants were firing from nearby — and at that moment the press building became a legitimate target. But there is no follow through from the media”, he complained. But, experts on international humanitarian law might disagree on whether or not the press building was, indeed, a legitimate military target, even if militants were firing from “nearby”…

An interesting report published in Haaretz a few days ago said that “On January 11, the army announced it had lifted its objection to the entry of journalists”.

But it was not until 23 January that general access was granted.

The Haaretz report also said that “The prohibition on the entry of foreign journalists into the Gaza Strip, which ended on Sunday, came from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office, according to official documents obtained by Haaretz. According to the document, the Defense Ministry and the IDF had removed their objections to the entry of foreign journalists into Gaza more than a week ago, meaning the Prime Minister’s Office had been the sole entity barring them from the Strip … In the correspondence, Attorney Eran Yosef, director of the legal department within the defense establishment’s legal advisor’s office, wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office that, ‘The Defense Minister’s military secretary told us that the prime minister has ordered that foreign journalists be prevented from entering the Strip. I was told [by officials from the PMO] that there is public relations interest for not letting journalists in, though this was not a compelling enough reason to restriction in place‘, he said. The letter was composed following a petition which the Foreign Press Association filed with the High Court of Justice, asking the court to order the state to let foreign reporters into Gaza” … This article is posted here.

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Israel allows first "pool" of journalists inside Gaza

The Israeli government and its military allowed the first “pool” of journalists inside Gaza today — six from the list put together from the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel, and two from a list compiled by Danny Seaman, Director of the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Correspondents for The New York Times, Fox News, and The Daily Telegraph were among the first 8 journalists to get in. They were not processed through the main Erez terminal until nearly the end of the day.

There are said to be some 650 journalists who have signed up to go into Gaza.

The FPA says it will continue to fight for full access for foreign journalists.

A few journalists managed to enter Gaza from Rafah two days ago — including CNN’s Ben Wedeman, NPR’s Eric Westervelt, a crew from BBC and possibly a few others — after a lot of persuasion with the Egyptian Authorities.

It is not yet clear what kind of facilities — or shelter — these journalists will be able to find for themselves in the badly-damaged Gaza Strip, where tightened sanctions that have been in place for over a year might soon become even more restrictive. One of the major hotels frequented by journalists in the past was reportedly hit during an Israeli air strike. The journalists who got in through the Rafah crossing are reportedly staying in “houses”.
Continue reading “Israel allows first "pool" of journalists inside Gaza”

"No other country in the world…"

“No other country in the world does what Israel does”, say some of my Israeli friends. “We tell the people to evacuate when we are going to bomb”.

Yes, but where do they think the evacuees are going to go?

There is really nowhere to go.

Nowhere in Gaza is prepared to handle thousands and thousands of large families.

And, one might ask, what provisions has the IDF made to help these fleeing families?

There were no preparations for this on the Hamas side, because it was hoped the ground invasion could be frightened off, with slogans like, “We have prepared a grave for you”, etc … It was actually hoped this would not happen.

Al-Jazeera aired a report of families walking almost aimlessly in downtown Gaza City. There is nowhere to go, those interviewed complained.

Some went to UNRWA schools. This morning, an UNRWA school, apparently full of displaced refugees, was hit.

Apparently not just one, but two, UNRWA schools were attacked on Tuesday, according to AP: “It was the second deadly Israeli attack to strike a UN school in the past few hours”, AP reported here .

One was in Jabaliya, the other one was in Gaza City. In one of them — it now appears to be the one in Jabaliya — the death toll is now given as 40, and rising.

The IDF later said that an “initial inquiry” into this “incident” — apparently meaning the school that was attacked in Jabaliya — “indicates that a number of mortar shells were fired at IDF forces from within the Jabalya school. In response to the incoming enemy fire, the forces returned mortar fire to the source. “This is not the first time that Hamas has fired mortars and rockets from schools, in such a way deliberately using civilians as human shields in their acts of terror against Israel”.

The IDF even offered old footage of another incident, as illustrative proof: “This was already proven several months ago by footage from an unmanned plane depicting rockets and mortars being fired from the yard of an UNRWA school. This footage has been released in the past, and is now being re-released, and is available via JCS – Jerusalem & Tel Aviv: 02-6701771 or 03-6238840”.

UPDATE: The Israeli Foreign Ministry has just called this “incident” a “heartrending tragedy”, and added that “initial investigations indicate that Hamas terrorists fired mortar bombs from the area of the school towards Israeli forces, who returned fire towards the source of the shooting. The Israeli return fire landed outside the school, yet a series of explosions followed, indicating the probable presence of munitions and explosives in the building. Intelligence indicates that among those killed were Immad Abu Iskar and Hassan Abu Iskar, two known Hamas mortar crewmen”.

In any case, you can’t find any of this out from the UNRWA website — if you land on the UNRWA website there is no information, just a Flash Appeal, as this catastrophe is yet another good occasion to ask for more donations, by credit card or wire transfer … and the death toll in one of the schools is now given as 40, and rising.

AP reported from inside the Gaza Strip that “Israeli forces edged closer to Gaza’s major population centers on Tuesday and attacked new sites, including a U.N. school, claiming more civilian lives after ignoring mounting international calls for an immediate cease-fire…where hundreds of people from a Gaza City refugee camp had sought shelter from Israel’s blistering 11-day offensive against the Hamas militant group … U.N. officials say they provided their location coordinates to Israel’s army to ensure that their buildings in Gaza are not targeted. The Israeli army had no comment on the latest strikes, but in the past has accused militants of using schools, mosques and residential neighborhoods to store weapons or launch attacks … ‘The battle is bitter but unavoidable. We set out on this operation in order to deal Hamas a heavy blow and to alter living conditions in the south of the country and to block smuggling into the Gaza Strip’, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. … In Geneva, the international Red Cross said Gaza was in a ‘full-blown’ humanitarian crisis. Its head of operations, Pierre Kraehenbuehl, said the few remaining power supplies could collapse at any moment … ” The AP report can be read in full here

There have been over 630 Palestinian deaths over the past 11 days, and at least 3,000 wounded. “There are so many amputations”, one doctor said. “Israel must be using some new kind of weapon”.

Some 525 “projectiles” have been fired from Gaza onto nearby Israeli areas, during the same period.

Many Israelis in the communities bordering Israel have been suffering from constant fear and anxiety — and many have been treated for hysteria. Four have been killed in the last 11 days.

Palestinians in Gaza have also been terrorized.

Nobody knows really what is happening, except from IDF sources, IDF footage, IDF photos — and a bit of footage also from Gaza-based Ramattan News Agency. Even Israel television buys their footage…

The Foreign Press Association (FPA), very frustrated, send this statement out: “The FPA strongly protests the Israeli government’s decision to continue the ban on international journalists entering Gaza despite the Supreme Court ruling requiring it to allow access. The unprecedented denial of access to Gaza for the world’s media amounts to a severe violation of press freedom and puts the state of Israel in the company of a handful of regimes around the world which regularly keep journalists from doing their jobs. We call on the Israeli authorities to lift this ban immediately in line with the decision of their own country’s Supreme Court and the basic principles of democratic statehood”.

But, McClatchy bureau chief here, Dion Nissenbaum, reports on his Checkpoint: Jerusalem Blog that, as more and more journalists continue to arrive every day in hopes of getting into Gaza, the IDF seems to have hardened its position: ” ‘The ruling was issued not in the time of a full-blown military operation that is taking place now’, said Maj. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for Israel’s defense ministry”.

Dion also reported that, on Monday, “the first eight reporters selected in a surreal and secretive process by the local Foreign Press Association once again packed their bags today and camped out at the border crossing in hopes of getting in. They were supposed to go in last Friday, but Israeli officials at the time said they were too busy letting about 300 foreigners who live in Gaza get out before they launched the ground offensive. Today, Israel let in convoys from the UN and the Red Cross who passed into Gaza while the journalists cooled their heels and waited. Eventually, the Israelis said there were ‘security alerts’ and warnings of an attack on Erez, so they sent the reporters home”.

Ramattan has on its website a letter sent to Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which makes complaints about other mistreatment of the press, particularly the local Palestinian press in Gaza: “The Committee to Protect Journalists urgently demands an explanation for the bombing of Al-Aqsa TV headquarter in Gaza City by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on Sunday. We are also dismayed by the army’s decision to declare Gaza’s northern boundary with Israel and other parts of the territory ‘closed military zones’. This latest move, along with previously stated restrictions, prevents journalists from effectively reporting from the Gaza Strip. On December 27, Israeli authorities officially denied a request by Gaza-based Ramattan news agency to transport cameras and other equipment from Ramallah to Gaza in an effort to cover unfolding events in Gaza, according to the news agency’s Web site. Members of the news media must be allowed to report on the situation in Gaza while retaining the protections guaranteed by Security Council Resolution 1738, as well as other universally accepted instruments of international law….” This can be viewed on the Ramattan website here.

Haaretz’ Yaakov Katz reported on Sunday on the beginning of the ground invasion on Saturday — which was not reported, apparently by censorship rules, until almost 8:30p.m — that: “The explosions started to escalate at around 4 p.m. as the IDF let loose its artillery cannons along the Gaza border, with the aim of ‘softening’ open areas in the Strip that are believed to be filled with booby traps and land mines. At the same time, thousands of troops from a wide range of infantry, armored and engineering units began taking up positions along the border before the invasion … Meanwhile, all along the border, an electrical blackout was imposed on communities to hide the IDF preparations and deployment. At several points – near Erez, Kfar Aza, Nizmit and Kerem Shalom – large contingents of journalists gathered to see the gunfights in the Gaza Strip. Bullets could be seen flying in both directions as well as into the air, likely attempts by Hamas to shoot down IAF attack helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles”. Katz’s report is posted here.

Yet other journalistic sources reported that the IDF attacks began to grow in intensity around 6p.m. on Saturday night — two and a half hours before the first reports were allowed to be published.

One journalist — who did not have a press card, and who therefore would not have been asked to sign the obligatory form accepting IDF censorship — was reportedly arrested on Monday for having violated the censorship regulations by reporting too early that the ground invasion had begun. According to a report in Haaretz: “A reporter for Iranian television [n.b., it was not official Iranian television – Press TV says the report was working for Al-Alam] was arrested by Israeli authorities on Monday for a dispatch which broadcast news of the Israel Defense Forces’ entry into the Gaza Strip. The journalist is alleged to have violated military censorship laws which forbade the news media from releasing information during the initial stages of the ground incursion. The reporter, a resident of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al Amud, was questioned by the police international investigations unit. He turned himself into authorities via his attorney”. This report can be read in full here.

Another story in Haaretz reported that “According to Danny Seaman, the director of the Israel Government Press Office, the reporter had been refused a press card for security reasons. The approach is stricter in general, Seaman explained, because ‘too many times we have spoken in too many voices. This time it’s clear that the system is unified and serious. That was also one of the Winograd Committee’s conclusions, but this time there won’t be censorship violations that won’t be dealt with’.” This Haaretz story also said that “Israel says it does not want the foreign press in Gaza due to concerns that something might happen to them that will hamper Israel’s operations. ” ‘What if one of these media stars gets hurt? Even if it isn’t Israel’s fault, it will be perceived as fundamental for the Palestinians’, an Israeli source said. That is apparently only part of the reason. Keeping the foreign journalists in Israel, sources say, is good for Israel’s image because the media is experiencing the war from the Israeli side. As soon as the IDF gets a hold in the Strip, it is expected that the IDF Spokesman will let Israeli and foreign journalists in with the army. For the time being, the only presence documenting events is the spokesman’s office”. This Haaretz report can be found here.

The Jerusalem Post reported that “GPO [n.b., the Israeli Government Press Office] head Danny Seaman said Monday that a crater caused by an Israeli shell on the Palestinian side of the road near the crossing was the reason the foreign press had not been let in Monday. ‘The eight aren’t going in today because of a technical problem on the Palestinian side – a crater caused by a shell overnight that disabled the road’, Seaman explained. He added that efforts would be made to repair the area so that reporters could go in on Tuesday. Lerner said he knew nothing about a crater in the road. Meanwhile, the FPA, which represents foreign journalists in Israel and the Palestinian territories, expressed growing exasperation Monday with the ongoing press ban, and suggested that Israel was mixing genuine security concerns and games. ‘We are waiting day by day, hour by hour’, said Glenys Sugarman, executive secretary of the FPA. ‘We just don’t know when we will get in’. Sugarman said that she had been told Monday that there was a suicide bomber on the Palestinian side of the border, which was why the border was quickly closed as a group of foreign nationals were leaving the Palestinian territory. ‘There are security issues, but there is playing around as well’, she said”. This JPost report can be found here .

The National, an English-language newspaper published in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., reported that “The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) regards the Israeli ban as a dangerous violation of press freedom that adds to ‘ignorance, uncertainty and fear’ in the region. ‘The Israeli ban on foreign news media from Gaza since Dec 27 raises concerns that there is a systematic attempt to prevent scrutiny of actions by the Israeli military’, said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. ‘The eyes of the world are on Gaza, but Israel is trying to censor the news by keeping the media at bay’. Human Rights Watch urged the Israeli government to abide by the Israeli high court ruling and allow foreign media into Gaza. The presence of journalists and human rights monitors in conflict areas provides an essential check on human rights abuses and laws-of-war violations, Human Rights Watch said”. This report is posted here .

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department Spokesperson, Sean McCormack, has told journalists that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is going to New York today to attend a UN Security Council meeting on Gaza: “There is a UN Security Council meeting, and this is previously scheduled. It was called by the chair [President] of the Security Council for this month, and that is France. I think Foreign Minister Kouchner expects to be there. So she will participate in that discussion. She will also have a series of meetings, bilateral as well as other configurations, that are intended to try to move forward on the pathway that we talked a little bit about yesterday – these three elements. And just to review, the three elements being an end to rocket fire coming out of Gaza, a – steps to address smuggling, as well as steps to open up the crossings going into Gaza using the 2005 Movement and Access Agreement, elements thereof perhaps, as a model or basis for opening up those access points and having those be secure as well … We would like an immediate ceasefire, absolutely, an immediate ceasefire that is durable and sustainable and non-time-limited. So you know, we can sort of go round and round with these – with the semantics. But of course, we – look, nobody wants to see violence. We would like to see the violence end today. But we also want to see it end in a way that is sustainable and durable, so that we aren’t – you know, you don’t have my successor up here three months, four months, six months from now, talking about the same thing … I fully understand the situation in Gaza. It is – the humanitarian situation there is dire, and we are working to try to address that in terms of getting goods in – into Gaza, as well as once they are into Gaza, to the people who need them. And we’re working with the Israelis as well as others on those questions … I would expect today that there would be a discussion, perhaps tomorrow there would be a follow-up session.”

Asked by a journalist if this was being viewed as a way to get the Palestinian Authority back [in contzrol] in Gaza, the spokesman replied: “No, it’s a side effect, perhaps, of having an agreement that’s consistent with the 2005 agreement, but it’s not the – that’s not the main objective. The main objective is to actually encourage legitimate trade across those borders in a secure fashion, so that on one side the Israelis can feel confident in the fact that those are secure crossing areas; and for the Palestinian people, they can actually engage in legitimate commerce and thereby improve in some form or fashion the situation on the ground”.

McCormack also said that “the schedule is still coming together at the moment, but I would expect that she [Secretary Rice] would meet with some of her Arab foreign minister counterparts. She will try to meet with [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas, who will be up in New York, as well as to have other side meetings”.