Strip searching + undressing journalists must stop, Foreign Press Association in Israel says

It is a very strong statement – but apparently there is no agreement yet on a news boycott to stop the policy of strip-searching and “undressing” foreign and Arab journalists in Israel.

The Foreign Press Association [FPA] in Israel today called this policy an “abomination”, and demanded that “it simply must stop”.

It does not happen to Israeli journalists [unless they are Arab/Palestinian]…

“This outrageous policy is an affront to common sense, an assault on human dignity and a blight upon the state of Israel”.

The FPA said that latest example happened earlier today — just prior to a news event called by the office of the State President of Israel, Shimon Peres to criticize yesterday’s arson attack on a mosque in Israel’s northern Galilee region which has caused local outrage and protests.

The FPA informed its members that “an Al Jazeera cameraman was asked to remove his pants upon arrival for an interview with President Shimon Peres _ an interview that came at the invitation of the president himself to criticize anti-Muslim violence! The explanations we have received – that such inspections are necessary for Arab journalists – are deeply troubling in a country that bills itself as the Middle East’s only democracy. It is not the first time this has happened. This pattern has existed for years and has become more entrenched and aggressive over the past year. We respect Israel’s need to maintain tight security [sic]. But when there is so much technology available to scan both people and their belongings, such practices cannot be justified and have nothing to do with security. The truth is darker and sadder: This lamentable policy combines blatant racism with systematic and ham-handed media harassment”. This FPA statement is posted

Apparently, the Al Jazeera cameraman submitted to the security demand, in order to do his job.

On 19 September, the FPA previously reported, “a female photographer was asked to remove her bra during an intrusive search as she arrived to cover the prime minister’s news conference”.

She apparently refused. According to the FPA condemnation issued on 20 September, “The affected journalist was the pool photographer for the press conference. Since she did not enter, the international media did not receive photos from the event”.

The FPA called this “demeaning, humiliating and unnecessary”.

But, the FPA has so far left it up to the individual journalist on the spot to decide what to do — to submit and accept such treatment, or to refuse and walk away [if the security service on the spot allows such a refusal, which is not always the case]. Some journalists fear they might lose their jobs if they don’t come back with the stories. It also should be said that some journalists [a minority, mainly European] don’t mind taking off their clothes, even in these circumstances, while for others the prospect is extremely disturbing.

So, because a lack of support [particularly from major media organizations, it seems], there has been no decision yet to boycott such events until such “demeaning, humiliating and unnecessary” treatment stops.

And, there has apparently been no expression of support from the Israeli journalists associations — who enjoy their privileged access and their competitive advantage, despite a questionable track record on asking tough questions, and especially on taking an independent and critical view of their own government, particularly when it comes to military and “security” matters. The Israeli media shares, and plays a major role in shaping, a public attitude of disdain and contempt for the “foreign” or international press corps.

Both of the two recent FPA statements on strip searching of journalists have gone beyond the usual formulaic acknowledgement respecting Israel’s right and duty to act in accordance with its extensive and wide-ranging security needs: on 20 September the FPA statement about the bra-removal requirement referred to “legitimate security concerns”, while today’s FPA statement about a cameraman who was told to remove his trousers nonetheless said it respected Israel’s “need to maintain tight security”.

But, there is a clear element of theater and sadism in such exaggerated security impositions — particularly when it comes to journalists who are known to, and registered with, the governmental authorities, and who have already been vetted by Israeli security.

Could it also be that there is some element of internal Israeli rivalry — as it seems it is the Mossad which vets the “foreign” or international journalists, who are the majority of the membership in the case of the FPA, while it is the Shabak or Shin Bet which is carrying out these strip searches at the Prime Minister’s and President’s offices…?

In their condemnation on 20 September, the FPA said: “It must be stressed that the FPA has always recognized the legitimate [sic] security concerns at the PMO [Prime Minister’s Office]. But once again, the guards have gone overboard. We strongly urge the PMO to revisit its security practices to find the proper balance between protecting the prime minister and ensuring that journalists can do their work in a dignified and harassment-free environment”.

Today’s FPA statement concluded by saying that “Sadly, by now we expect nothing better from the Shin Bet. Frankly, we have ceased hoping that the Prime Minister’s Office – scene of some of the most persistent abuses – will intervene. But it is deeply disappointing that this policy is also accepted and enabled by the office of Shimon Peres – a Nobel Peace Laureate and outspoken advocate of human rights and progressive thinking. We respectfully call on the President to use the influence of his office to end this abomination”…

Nabil Shaath: Israel must stop all settlement activities including in Jerusalem — without loopholes

The recent Fatah General Conference held in Bethlehem was very important, and the results were “good, but not excellent”, Shaath said. “You can’t get excellent results with a 20-year hiatus (from the last general conference)”. Shaath said “it was not really a coup d’etat … and not an indicator there was a revolt, but an indication of the need to rejeuvenate using the wisdom of the older members”. He noted that “probably the average age of the Central Committee members dropped from 63 to 57 — we’re talking about very experienced people”.

Shaath revealed that “there is a planned trip to Gaza soon of some of the new Fatah Central Committee members, including me — but as Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) said, [this should not be a one-time event, and] the Central Committee should be in and out of Gaza all the time”. This trip could even be before the end of Ramadan, Shaath said.

And, Shaath said, there will be a big Palestinian delegation at the UN General Assembly high-level debate in mid-September, and “we will be moving on all fronts, making efforts to get the American government, Europe, Russia, China, and Japan” to put pressure on Israel in order to bring about a “categorical stop to all Israeli settlement activities [in Palestinian land seized in 1967], including in Jerusalem” — and “without any loopholes”.

“We are not going to consider any limited settlement freeze, or any nuanced cessation, or any regional implementation — i.e., excluding Jerusalem”, Shaath said.

Shaath said that he was in complete agreement with the article by Akiva Eldar published in Haaretz today, in which Eldar wrote “If there is any truth in the reports that came out of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Europe – that the United States agreed Israel can go on building in East Jerusalem – the headlines should have read ‘Obama has pulled out of the Middle East peace process’.”

Eldar also wrote that “During the negotiations with Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, the Palestinians agreed to exchange the territory of the settlements that are adjacent to the eastern side of the Green Line with territory on the western side of the line. On the other hand, the sensitive issue of sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem and the city’s holy sites, as well as the fate of a quarter-million Palestinians who were ‘annexed’ unilaterally into the State of Israel (as permanent residents) remains in dispute. The American position has been and remains that East Jerusalem is occupied territory whose future will be decided in negotiations between the two sides. Like the other countries of the world, and the UN Security Council, the United States has never recognized Israel’s decision to annex 64.4 square kilometers of the West Bank and join them to the 6.5 square kilometers that were part of Jerusalem’s administrative authority under Jordanian rule … We think that if we say ‘united Jerusalem, the capital of Israel’ frequently enough, the world will get used to the fact that this territory is ours (the semantics have led to a report on the Voice of Israel on the rise of Israeli exports to ‘Judea and Samaria’). It has not happened yet, and that is a good thing. Two U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, did not approve the resolution passed by Congress in 1995, declaring that ‘unified Jerusalem’ is the capital of Israel. They stated that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem will undermine the chances for a permanent resolution to the conflict, and thus harm the national security of the United States. Unfortunately, both turned a blind eye to construction in the West Bank settlements and the Palestinian neighborhoods that Israel defines as ‘East Jerusalem’.”

Eldar said in his article that during Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous tenure as Prime Minister, “In July 1997 he decided to stop construction at a Jewish site in the heart of the neighborhood Ras al-Amud, and to evacuate the families who moved in … The head of the Shin Bet security service at the time, Ami Ayalon, warned the prime minister in a report that Jewish construction in the neighborhood would stir riots in the territories. Since the current Palestinian leadership has renounced violence, it is possible that an American acquiescence to the continued Jewish penetration into Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem will pass peacefully. However, a substantive change of such magnitude in the U.S. position regarding a national/religious issue that is so explosive would cause the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, among other efforts, to crash and burn … We must hope that the news that Obama has backtracked on East Jerusalem is merely the wishful thinking of opponents to a compromise that come from the western part of the city”. This Akiva Eldar article can be viewed in full on the Haaretz website here.

[However, settlement expansion is continuing in Ras al-Amud today. The former police station — which has now been moved to the E-1 area at the beginning of the year, despite Israeli assurances to former U.S. Secretary of State lin mid-2008 that the move was in the far distant future — has been prepared for demolition, with the windows and doors removed, a Palestinian resident of the area said. And there is evidence of preparation to expand the “Maale Zeitim” settlement housing. “Then, the two areas will be joined”, this man said — and his house would be surrounded. “I am now convinced that the Israelis see no future with Palestinians in this land”. ]

Shaath, in his remarks to members of the Foreign Press Association (FPA) at a briefing today at the Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah, said that “Abu Mazen is ready for these negotiations and is not putting precondition, but he is calling on the Israeli government to avoid “a repetition of its shameful way, as [former Prime Minister Ehud Barak] did in 1999, when he renegotiated agreements previously made by Netanyahu then he did the same thing concerning Syria first in Shepardstown and then in Geneva, and then also to the Palestinians at Camp David”.

No, Shaath said, what should be done is either you finish up previous business and go on to a new stage, or any efforts will be “as fruitless as everything since Camp David”, and there would be another nine years without any progress or results.

However, Shaath said, Netanyahu’s current offer “to restart negotiations ‘without preconditions’ is a horrible thing, because it means starting anew again” — which he said the Palestinians were unwilling to do.

The election of Barack Obama to replace George W. Bush has brought “hope for a fresh re-start to the peace process”, Shaath said,

“We want Obama to come with a clear sentence repeating what is in the Road Map and in the Annapolis Declaration: ‘there should be absolutely no settlement activity, including natural growth, and this does not allow continuing what is already under construction’,” Shaath said.

But, he said, “to bank on the fact that violence has been defeated is very stupid”.

The Mitchell report blamed Israeli settlement activity and the resulting violence, for the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, Shaath said, and “it’s ridiculous to go on with talks now … while the land is vanishing every day”.

Shaath said that “We would [only] accept a temporary freeze if it is related to the signing and implementation of a peace agreement that would mean an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 border with some minor negotiated swaps”.

“This is the policy of the new Fatah Central Committee, of the new Executive Committee of the PLO, it is in the political program agreed at the Fatah Conference in Bethlehem, and this is the policy of the entire Palestinian people”, Shaath told the journalists.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the regular meeting of the Israeli government on Sunday, as reported in the cabinet communique, that “On the diplomatic issue, my meeting with [former Senator] Mitchell, contrary to the rumors, stories and reports that I am not responsible for, but I am responsible for what I am telling you now, there are no agreements or decisions; there is an attempt to bridge between the two goals that we would like to hold to and maintain simultaneously: The first is to launch a peace process, a diplomatic process
between us and the Palestinians that will – of course – also include the Arab countries. The second as to do with our desire to see to the minimal existential needs of the settler public. As to this, there are all sorts of attempts to reach an understanding and reduce gaps but we are not there yet.”