My Day in Court [cont'd 1] Full text: Israel reports Committee decides bloggers are journalists

Read it for yourself: here below is the full text, in English, of a press release announcing new rules, as transmitted from the Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs in conjunction with the Israeli Government Press Office [GPO] which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office [PMO] currently headed by Benyamin Netanyahu.

First, though, just let me say here that I did not receive this press release myself, though I am still on various of the GPO mailing lists, despite the denial to me of an Israeli GPO Press Card since 2010, which is now under consideration before the Israeli High Court of Justice, or Supreme Court. Follow my updates here.

Nor did various other journalists I know, who work for major media organizations, receive this press release.

It is a mystery: who received it, and why, and who did not.

Though there was a report on this decision, by the Government-appointed Committee mentioned in the press release above, apparently both in the Hebrew-language edition of Haaretz, and in the Israeli business publication Globes, it is not yet published in English, to my knowledge.

However, this press release does exist, in English — but was sent to only a limited distribution list.

What emerges, after consideration of the announcements made and the statements reported in this press release, is this important fact: THERE ARE NOT [YET] NEW RULES.

No. There are only the principles mentioned in the press release above.

Nonetheless, in the first Supreme Court hearing of my petition for renewal of my Israeli GPO press card, on the basis of my own two “niche websites” [my words, contained in my appeal formulated in 2010], the Government of Israel told a three-judge panel of the Israeli Supreme Court that I do not qualify under these new rules.

The earlier ruling, which I had appealed, was that I do not qualify for a a GPO Press Card because this website does not have 100,000 “hits” from distinct visitors per day…

Yes, that’s true, I told the Israeli Government — we ourselves supplied you with the statistics from this site, and we do not have 100,000 “hits” per day.

But, is that a reasonable criteria? Or, is it the policy of the State of Israel that only a big journalist / media personality can qualify for an Israeli GPO Press Card?

The Supreme Court Judges apparently agree that these are questions with legal merit — both in accepting my appeal in 2010, and in declining to dismiss my case on Monday as the Israeli Government urged the Supreme Court to do.

It should be noted, here, that I arrived in Israel in May 2007 having fulfilled all the Rules and Regulations for a GPO press card, to the letter. Two weeks later I did receive a GPO Press Card.

Circumstances changed, and in 2009 — after Operation Cast Lead — my GPO Press Card was not renewed, but instead I was issued a “Certificate”, which I questioned. I was told that the “Certificate” was the same thing as the “Press Card”.

So, I asked, why don’t you simple issue a GPO “Press Card”, if it’s really the same thing.

My appeal to the PMO’s [the only route] was somehow “lost”, I was informed later in the year.

Meanwhile, I was delayed two hours in my first attempt to enter Gaza with this “Credential”, and it took a number of phone calls from the GPO’s then-Director, Danny Seaman, to straighten the situation out… he said he was angry, because he had explained to the IDF that the “Certificate” was the same as a “Press Card”, but the IDF was apparently not immediately convinced.

This is, of course, not the sort of thing one would want to happen every time one crosses a checkpoint … which is quite bad enough — particulary at Erez — without having one’s credentials questioned.

Here, let me note that the GPO decided to ban the entry of journalists into Gaza from early November 2008 [some 6-7 weeks before the launch of the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead], until 23 January 2009, five days after the two separate but parallel cease-fires [Israel’s, and Hamas’s] went into effect. The GPO explained to the Israeli media at the time that they did not want to facilitate the “distorted” reporting of international journalists on Hamas… or, of course, on the situation of the other 1.5 million people squeezed into the Gaza Strip without any means of leaving.

In 2010 I was denied any sort of GPO Press Card or credential at all. Danny Seaman told me at the time that he was surprised, he “had not been advised” — but, he said, he would stand behind his staff.

Appeal, he said… “No hard feelings.

One of the constants remains this blog, which I began well before my arrival in Jerusalem.

Without an Israel GPO press card, I am unable to go to Gaza — which severely hampers my ability to work and report — and I do not have a journalists’ visa which permits me to “work”, however that is defined [this is still unclear as well].

For the past two years, I have not been able to enter Gaza via the Israeli military-controlled Erez “Terminal”.
And I have been legally present, though with simple tourist visas stamped “NOT PERMITTED TO WORK”…

These are important matters that do indeed raise important issues of principles [and democratic values] that, I am relieved to report, the Israeli Supreme Court continues to keep under review.

    State of Israel
    Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs
    Government Press Office


    “The Advisory Committee on Evaluating the Criteria for Issuing Government Press Office (GPO) Cards this morning (Tuesday), 13.12.11, submitted its recommendations to Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, Public Diplomacy, Diaspora Affairs Ministry Director-General Ronen Plot and GPO Director Oren Helman.

    The Committee recommended unifying the various types of cards issued by the GPO under the single heading ‘GPO Card‘ which would serve all those engaged in media professions.

    In light of the Committee’s recommendations, it was proposed to expand the content of the substantive definitions of media and the list of media professions and positions in order to adapt them to recent changes and developments in the field. The new definitions include media professions and means such as bloggers and niche portals.

    The new definitions created by the Committee will make things easier for documentary film makers who, due to the nature of their work, do not operate under a permanent professional roof. Similarly, the Committee lifted various restrictions that prevented the issuing of GPO cards, such as scope of output, the requirement to distinguish between managing directors and editors, and the need that those applying for GPO cards be engaged in media work full-time.

    Committee Chairwoman retired Judge Sara Frisch said that, ‘The positions and the comments that were brought before the Committee strengthened the need, in my view and that of my colleagues, to change the rules and broaden the definitions of media vis-à-vis the issuing of GPO cards according to the rules. The Committee’s recommendations were formulated such that the criteria for issuing GPO cards will be as inclusive and comprehensive as possible, while maintaining their effective benefit and preventing the excessive issuing of the cards, which would be liable to harm journalists’ work itself’.

    Minister Yuli Edelstein said that, ‘At a time when claims are being raised about shutting people up, reducing freedom of the press and interference, the Committee’s recommendations are genuinely good news in expanding pluralism and reducing the room for consideration by the issuing authority regarding the issuing of press credentials. The Committee’s recommendations give expression to the undeniable changes vis-à-vis the development of the new media and questions of what is a newspaper and who is a journalist. We are in a new era which finds expression in the recommendations of the Committee’.

    GPO Director Oren Helman said that, ‘I ascribe great importance to the Committee’s recommendations and the opening of the ranks so as to allow a younger generation of journalists to receive access to events and to the sources of government information, due to their being included in the eligibility for GPO cards. This is a genuine reform in the work of the GPO, which will lead to media pluralism and the strengthening of a very important democratic value – freedom of the press and media openness. The new structure of rules recommended by the Committee gives a genuine response to the technological challenges and developments being dealt with by the GPO’.

    GPO Director Helman added that, ‘Defining in legislation the definition of who is a journalist would be bad for democracy and bad for journalism. We must avoid the possibility of influencing content via the definition of who is a journalist’.

    The Committee’s recommendations were formulated with the consent of most Committee members – Shalom Kital, Yossi Ahimeir, Niv Calderon and Samir Darwish – except for a minority opinion by Committee member Dr. Amit Lavie-Dinur, which is included in the Committee report”.

Report: 100 journalists denied Israeli GPO press credentials this year

The head of the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel — a grouping of recognized journalists working for international media — has just reported that over 100 journalists were denied Israeli GPO press credentials this year.

In the interest of full disclosure, that means 99 others, and me

Continue reading Report: 100 journalists denied Israeli GPO press credentials this year

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.

"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?

American editor at Ma'an News Agency denied re-entry into Israel + held for deportation hearing

Jared Malsin, the editor of the English-language website of the Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency, was detained upon arrival at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport when arriving from a trip abroad.

Jared Malsin is at right in this Ma’an photo, holding the small recording device.  He is listening to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.  Ma’an’s Chief Editor, Nasser Lahham, is wearing the red tie and standing to the Prime Minister’s right in the photo.

Jared Malsin in right of photo speaks to PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad

Jared is also a friend and colleague who edited some of my contributions donated to Ma’an News Agency.  Recently, we both found ourselves in the same Arabic-language class (Media Arabic) in Jerusalem for the last three months of 2009. [He apparently did not previously study Arabic at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah.]

Jared Malsin, an American from New England, [Josh, in a comment posted below, informs me that “He’s actually from New Hampshire, not Vermont”], has a Jewish father [Jared’s colleage from Ma’an tells me that his mother is not Jewish, which is a crucial point in Jewish religious law — but having a Jewish father still makes him eligible for Israeli citizenship, should he choose to exercise this right].

UPDATED FRIDAY: Ma’an News Agency reported that “More than 48 hours after he was first detained, Malsin is still being denied access to any of his belongings. He was not been given a change of clothes, toiletries, or offered the chance to shower.  ‘I have nothing’, he said during a visit to his detention cell by a US consular official on Thursday afternoon.  ‘I don’t even have a pen or paper, not even a book’.”  This was sent out as a Ma’an press release.

Ma’an News Agency has reported this morning that “Malsin was detained at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport on Tuesday afternoon while returning from the Czech Republic on holiday. After eight hours of interrogation, the Israeli Interior Ministry ordered him held and scheduled deportation for 6am on Thursday. Ma’an attorney Castro Daoud intervened amid pressure from US diplomats seeking an injunction against the deportation. The request was rejected by the Israeli attorney general, whose own ruling was then overturned by a Tel Aviv judge … Judge Miriam Sokolov will hear Malsin’s case at 10am at the Tel Aviv District Court. A verdict is expected by noon. Hebrew-language interrogation transcripts obtained by Ma’an reveal that Malsin was deemed a security risk on the apparent basis of his political beliefs. Interrogators gathered online research into the journalist’s writing history, which the transcripts indicate included news stories ‘criticizing the State of Israel‘, among other allegations that he ‘authored articles inside the territories‘. The security agents questioned why Malsin would have entered the West Bank if he were truly interested in becoming an Israeli citizen [sic], say he ‘claimed to be Jewish’, and allege that ‘he exploited his Jewishness to gain entry into the State of Israel’. Among the specific grounds for detaining him were ‘lying to border officials’, ‘here illegally’, and ‘entered Israel by means of lies’.” Ma’an also reported that “Israeli officials have refused to publicly acknowledge Malsin’s presence at the airport or anywhere else”.  This report can be read in full here.

The Jerusalem Post has reported that “An American Jewish journalist who works as a senior English-language editor at the Ma’an Palestinian news agency was denied entry into Israel on Tuesday and is scheduled to be deported on Thursday. Security sources told The Jerusalem Post that ‘suspicious signs’ were identified on Jared Malsin, adding that the suspicions were passed on to the Interior Ministry. The sources said ‘no security advice’ was given to the Interior Ministry regarding Malsin. The Interior Ministry then took the decision to deny Malsin entry into Israel. The ministry was not immediately available for comment. Malsin was detained after he deplaned from a flight from Prague with his girlfriend, Faith Rowold, on Tuesday afternoon. It was not immediately clear whether Rowold, a US national who works as a volunteer for the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem, was also denied entry. ‘He was really confused’, said George Hale, a colleague of Malsin who spoke to him by phone before Malsin’s phone was confiscated on Tuesday night. ‘They interrogated him about pro-Palestinian activities and asked if he was involved in such things’, Hale added. ‘We are not activists in any way. That would reflect poorly on our impartiality. He is not known for being an activist. If he’s at a protest, it’s with a camera’, Hale said. In a statement released by Ma’an, the news organization said it ‘scrupulously maintains its editorial independence and aims to promote access to information, freedom of expression, press freedom, and media pluralism in Palestine’ …”. This JPost article is posted here.

  • If Ben Gurion Airport security gave “no security advice” to the Interior Ministry [and if Jared were a security threat, the Ben Gurion Airport security would surely have had to say so], why did the Interior Ministry decide to deny him entry?

UPDATE: Colleagues at Ma’an have just said that Jared’s deportation hearing has been postponed until Sunday, and he remains in Israeli detention.  The conditions in these detention facilities are known to be rather bad — and this delay means Jared will have spent  more than four days in them before his hearing.  His girfriend, Faith Rowold, was deported today (Thursday).   According to a source in the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem, she was in Jerusalem for at least a year on a one-year church volunteer visa,  and had left the country (and was trying to return on Tuesday) in order to obtain a valid new visa.  (Other American-national church volunteers in Jerusalem who have had the special one-year visas for this category have reported to this correspondent earlier that their requests for visa extensions were denied this year.)  Faith Rowold went back to Czeckoslovakia, and may try to see if she can resolve the problem from there, the source said.  The source added that U.S. Embassy and Consular officials were “heavily involved” in trying to resolve both cases…

UPDATE TWO: Ma’an has a more detailed account published as a press release on their website here.  It reports that “Interrogation transcripts reveal that Malsin’s detention was linked to his work as a professional journalist. Airport officials indicated that he was denied entry into the country for ‘failing to cooperate’ with Israeli security personnel, and because he had authored news stories ‘inside the territories’ and articles ‘criticizing the State of Israel’. The documents question his Jewish heritage, as well … US Embassy staff have registered objections with the Israeli authorities over Malsin’s treatment. Dutch officials, whose government provided some of Ma’an’s initial funding in 2005, expressed concern and are monitoring the situation. Danish representatives, who also provided start-up funding for Ma’an were also contacted.  Nevertheless, foreign diplomats say there is little they can do in cases where Israel cites ‘security reasons’ for denying a foreign-passport holder’s entry, although Israel has yet to specify any allegations in Malsin’s case. Israeli security officials, meanwhile, have quietly expressed concern to Ma’an over this latest abuse of power by the Interior Ministry”.

The question of donor funding what is supposed to be an independent news agency — something which is peculiar to the Palestinian Authority area — is highlighted in an “Order of Events” that Ma’an compiled on this same page that “Jared’s phone was confiscated by El Al security officials when he boarded a flight in the Czech Republic on 12 January 2010. He was denied the opportunity to make any calls to his consulate, his family or a lawyer between 11am (upon boarding) and 11pm (when his mobile was briefly returned) … [H]is long-term girlfriend, Faith Rowold, a two-year, registered volunteer with the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem, was also seized and placed in a holding cell pending deportation. At 4pm when the flight was disembarked in Tel Aviv, Faith used the phone of a fellow traveler, an Israeli national, in the restroom of the airport. She called her sister with a brief message saying she had landed but indicated that there were problems. At 6:30pm, the office of US Citizen Services was contacted in Jerusalem. Officials called Israeli airport authorities, who assured them that there were no American citizens being held there at that time. The names of Jared and his companion, also a US national, were reportedly not flagged. The official suggested the couple were out having a good time in Tel Aviv and had simply not gotten in touch … Jared used the mobile of a French traveler admitted to the detention hall at 8:30pm to call his Faith’s sister again and asked a colleague to immediately contact the US Embassy. He said he was being questioned and feared being denied entry into Israel; he provided passport numbers for himself and his fellow traveler. The US Consulate official was contacted again with the information that Jared was not out in Tel Aviv, but had in fact been in Israeli custody since 11am that morning. The official immediately expressed concern and said he would call his contacts again at the airport. The official called back at after 9pm and asked for more information on Jared and his fellow traveler: are they married, is she pregnant, is there a Palestinian connection, what newspaper does Jared write for, etc.  The consulate official was informed that Jared worked with Ma’an.  He was also informed that while the US, EU and UK fund programs and productions with the Ma’an Network, that staff at each of the consulates consult the English Desk site daily, even hourly, the State of Israel does not recognize Ma’an as a news organization, and therefore denies its journalists press accreditation.  By 11pm, both Jared and Faith were informed that they had been denied entry. Their mobile phones were returned to them for two hours, and then confiscated just after midnight when they were transferred to holding cells”…

UPDATE THREE: The BBC website has reported that “[Israeli] Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabin Hadad said Mr Malsin had been denied entry because he had refused to answer during questioning. She said issues related to Mr Malsin’s visa ‘could have been solved if he had co-operated’, said Ms Hadad. An official report on the questioning, which Maan said it had received from the court, accused Mr Malsin of failing to arrange the correct visa, but did not give details. It said he was suspected of ‘exploiting the fact that he is Jewish to gain a visa’. This was apparently on the basis that, when seeking a visa extension previously, he had told Interior Ministry officials he was exploring the option of emigrating to Israel, but had written articles critical of the country. By law Jews from around the world are eligible to emigrate to Israel. The report also said Mr Malsin had refused to give the name of the friend he said he lived with in the West Bank … Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said that allegations that the decision was because of Mr Malsin’s journalism were ‘simply absurd’.” This same BBC report quoted Jared Malsin’s colleague at Ma’an, George Hale, as saying that ‘Malsin, a graduate of Yale University, had initially come to Israel on the Birthright programme, which funds visits to Israel for young Jewish Americans. Mr Malsin had never overstayed a visa, except for his most recent one, which was a few days overdue and that he had been told by officials this did not matter, Mr Hale said. Foreign nationals working or volunteering with Palestinian organisations in the West Bank often complain of difficulty obtaining visas. Many are present on three-month tourist visas, which do not provide permission to work and may not be extended”.  The BBC website report is published here.

  • So, as the BBC reported, “Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said that allegations that the decision was because of Mr Malsin’s journalism were ‘simply absurd’.” While these allegations may well be “simply absurd”, as Mark Regev said, it nonetheless appears that Israeli security officials at Ben Gurion Airport and the Israeli Ministry of the Interior have made and sustained them.  If so, why?  And why have other Israeli government officials not challenged them?

According to a link on the mondoweiss blog, Tel Aviv-based journalist Mya Guarnieri wrote on the Huffington Post today that “Although Bethlehem-based Maan is identified as a Palestinian news service, it is widely known as an independent media outlet — free of political agendas and noted for its unbiased reporting. As such, it is attracting a steadily growing readership, receiving over 3 million visitors a month. Malsin appealed the deportation order and was scheduled to stand before a judge in Tel Aviv on Thursday morning. But according to Maan’s lawyer, Castro Daoud, the hearing has been delayed until Sunday for unknown reasons. In the meantime, Daoud says, Malsin remains in the custody of Israeli authorities. Since his detainment, which Israeli officials initially denied, Malsin has had little contact with the outside world. Daoud has had only one brief meeting with his client and Malsin has made a short phone call to Maan staff writer and sub-editor, George Hale. Speaking to The Huffington Post, Hale reports that Malsin was shocked by the detainment. Malsin was also surprised that Israeli security officials were questioning him about the International Solidarity Movement, an activist group that Malsin has no affiliation with. ‘He [Malsin] is the last person who would be involved with the ISM. He is a journalist’, Hale says” Guarnieri added that “When considered within a larger context, Malsin’s detention seems to point to a government intent on silencing dissent”. This report is published on the Huffington Post here.

  • As we reported earlier this week here, Israeli forces conducted a 3am raid into the heart of downtown Ramallah to detain a young Czech woman [Eva Novakova] who has been in the area with the International Solidarity Movement, and for the previous three weeks working as the group’s media coordinator. She was taken from Ramallah into Israel, and deported from Ben Gurion airport at 6am on Tuesday.  Was it just a random coincidence that a few hours later Jared was detained while returning from a holiday that just happened to be in the Czech Republic?   It is interesting to read, in one of the Ma’an reports on Eva Novakova’s deportation, that “Dusan Kralik, the Embassy of the Czech Republic’s envoy to Israel, said he was not planning to protest the move, which Nováková’s supporters say was carried out without due process, bypassing Israel’s judiciary. ‘She was here illegally, without permission’, Kralik told Ma’an. ‘She’s supposed to leave’.”   This Ma’an report is posted here.  It is also interesting that one of the emails that Eva Novakova must have been responsible for sending out, as the ISM media coordinator for the three weeks prior to her seizure in Ramallah and deportation from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, is one dated 3 January, reporting on another deportation, of another American: “Minnesota resident Ryan Olander is facing deportation after being held in Israeli prisons for over two weeks. He spent his Christmas and New Year at a deportation facility in Ramle, where his request for release has been rejected by the prison judge. His lawyer submitted an appeal to the District Court in Tel Aviv on 27 December 2009 challenging the request of the Israeli Ministry of Interior for Mr. Olander’s deportation. The lawyer is anticipating the decision of the judge within the next 48 hours. Ryan Olander was arrested from a tent the Palestinian al-Kurd family built in their own backyard [in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem] following a recent setter take-over of a section of their house. He was drinking tea and talking to the family members when six Israeli police walked into the tent and took him for questioning at the Russian Compound police station in west Jerusalem ( Despite being released without charges the following day, Ryan was illegally re-arrested by immigration police only a few moments later, right outside of the same police station that told him he was free to go“.

UPDATE FOUR: Israel’s Haaretz newspaper finally published a brief story on Friday, saying that “Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said: ‘Mr. Malsin is not staying in Israel on a journalist’s visa and the team that questioned him had no idea he was a journalist. He returned to Israel with his girlfriend. Both of them are registered … as having been here illegally several times’. Interrogation transcripts obtained by Maan indicate that Malsin may have been deemed a security risk due to stories he wrote criticizing Israel”. This Haaretz story is posted on their English-language website here.

  • [n.b. – What?  They were in Israel “illegally” several times?   How is that possible?]


It’s hard to understand what the real issues are.  If the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) refuses to give press credentials to employees of the Ma’an News Agency, based in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, then Jared Malsin could not have asked for a journalist visa.  So, what kind of a visa should he have requested, exactly?

UPDATE FIVE – REALITY CHECK: My own journalist visa from the Israeli Ministry of Interior, issued on an annual basis, is about to expire, again. Its renewal depends entirely upon a recommendation from the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), which is part of the Israeli Prime Minister’s office — and this recommendation is entirely based on the issuance of a valid GPO card. I have now received a letter in response to my application for renewal of my GPO card saying that (this year) I do not meet the requirements — and the first reason cited is that (1) my website DOES NOT HAVE at least 100,000 hits a day from at least 20,000 distinct IP Addresses. In addition, the GPO letter says that (2) it has not been proven to its satisfaction that I was engaged in press work … in Israel or abroad, on a permanent basis … during the year prior to my application for renewal. [This is despite the regular publication of my articles on this website and elsewhere throughout the entire year…] And, the GPO letter suggests that it has not been proven to its satisfaction that (3) I “arrived in Israel for the performance of services in the field of news media for the period of at least one year, at the request of the Media, and an express and binding work order/contract requesting these services was presented to the GPO” [though I arrived with a valid contract and have had a GPO press card for more than 2.5 years]. The GPO letter then informs me that I am “entitled to submit an objection in writing to the Prime Minister’s Office Legal Adviser with [sic] thirty days of receiving this notice The objection will be discussed in committee according to the rules”. The letter is signed by Daniel Seaman, Director of the Government Oress Office. When I spoke to him on Sunday, he told me that this had not been brought to his attention — but that I could appeal. “We do not decide who is a journalist”, he told me, “we just decide who is eligible for a GPO card”. I have had a GPO press card since May 2007. I presented a valid work contract upon my arrival, from a media for whom I had worked for over a year prior to my arrival. Since then, I have been working continuously and exclusively as a journalist. Last year, when there was an issue over what kind of press card I would be issued, Danny Seaman said to me: “Do you think we don’t know what you write? I don’t agree with it, but, I recognize you are a professional journalist. We read everything. We even read your blog”. Now, facing the possibility of not having my GPO card renewed, what kind of visa can I ask for? The only other possibility would be the usual three-month tourist visa. If I were obliged to ask for that, would I be accused of lying? And, if I were granted such a visa, I would have to travel in and out of Israel (and the occupied Palestinian territory — because for this purpose, if for no other, the Palestinian areas do not count as “another country”) at great expense and inconvenience, with great uncertainty at every return, every three months…

And, by the way, both this year and last year, Danny Seaman informed me that I can stay in the country for up to two months after my visa expires — “especially as an American” — without any problem. When I asked him if he could put this in writing, he declined. But the Ministry of Interior is now saying that among their objections to Jared Malsin (and Faith Rowold) is that they have overstayed their visas by a few days.


On January 29, 2007, the Israeli GPO sent out an email to journalists containing the “translation of the unedited verbatim transcript of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee meeting ( regarding foreign journalists’ visas, on 20.11.2006”. It is a fascinating document.

In it, MK [Member of Knesset] Ahmad Tibi opens the session by stating that “Today, there are approximately 800 foreign journalists in the country covering issues both inside the State of Israel and in the Palestinian Administration (PA) areas. Usually, foreign journalists arrive for a period of three-to-five years. However, approximately 20 journalists have been in the country for over 10 years. The Entry into Israel Law does not distinguish between foreign journalists and other foreign workers, all of whom receive B-1 visas. The visas are valid for 36 months and their validity is not extended except in exceptional cases. A foreign journalist in Israel must – in order to be here – hold a B-1 visa and a foreign press card from the GPO, headed by Daniel Seaman. A foreign journalist whose B-1 visa has expired needs a letter-of-recommendation from the GPO, i.e. he needs a letter-of-recommendation from the Government, of the Prime Minister’s Office which, on the face of it, seems improper. In order for the reporting to be professional a journalist must depend solely on professional elements, in the Interior Ministry alone, and not on the recommendation of those he reports on. What is this like? For example, if his report is critical of Ahmed Tibi and then I need to give him a recommendation and I do not give it and I do not extend the validity of his visa. Therefore, journalists believe that the visa is a tool for controlling their reporting. If ‘those high up’ are not satisfied with a certain journalist, he greatly suffers from the fact that his visa is not extended or he is given the runaround or he does not receive a letter-of-recommendation from the GPO”.

There was a lengthy but revealing exchange between committee members and the Ministry of Interior spokeswoman, of which excerpts follow below:
Moshe Gafni: … A journalist is called a foreign worker?
Sabin Hadad [
then, as now, Ministry of Interior spokeswoman]: He [sic] has a foreign worker’s visa.
Chairman Raleb Majadele: As a journalist, he is subject to the Entry Into Israel Law, like a foreign worker.
Moshe Gafni: Doesn’t he have a press card that gives him a different status from other foreign workers?
Chairman Raleb Majadele: Foreign journalists receive a visa for 63 months, five years and three months. At the end of this period, if Reuters and its correspondent continue the contacts between them, they apply to the GPO, receive a recommendation for one year and the Population Administration approves an extension for one year. At the end of the year they must apply again and repeat the same procedure.
Ahmed Tibi: Or they don’t get a recommendation.
Chairman Raleb Majadele: We will yet hear if they receive a recommendation or not, there is data. This proposal is here before us today for us to discuss. There are people who believe that journalists need to receive separate visas in order to maintain freedom of the press, so that they will have quiet and not depend on the GPO, and who claim that 63 months is not enough.

Sabin Hadad: As far as we know, during the last five years, there have been no problems, at least we haven’t heard of any. The simple procedure – correspondents go to the GPO, the GPO determines who is defined as a journalist and who not. I, in the Interior Ministry, have not monitored the journalists, I do not have the professional tools to check who is actually a journalist and who not. That is the GPO’s job and they do it just fine. During the first five years journalists do everything via the GPO … Only in recent months has a problem come up regarding extending the visas beyond five years. They started to say: Yes, extend. No, don’t extend. There are specific provisions in the law stating what to do after five years, there is an exceptional case. For five years, those who want to, can work. Any expert and any foreign worker who wants to work beyond five years, first of all, if it’s approved, the approval is for one year only according to the recommendations of the relevant ministers.
Chairman Raleb Majadele: What happens after the sixth year?
Sabin Hadad: A journalist who wants to continue working here even after the sixth year and his newspaper continues to employ him brings the same recommendation to the Interior Ministry, but the process is more complicated, there are no automatic extensions … The decision is the Interior Minister’s in the end.
Chairman Raleb Majadele:: Who does this, the journalist himself or the GPO?
Sabin Hadad: This is part of the new procedure that has been agreed upon. In the discussions we held with external elements, including the Prime Minister’s Bureau, the Foreign Minister’s Bureau, the Interior Minister, and in the past week we also held a discussion with FPA representatives, it was decided that in extensions beyond five years, the determination of who is a journalist and who not will still be the GPO’s but they will not make recommendations. The decision is the Population Administration’s and we announce the decision in advance: In the absence of another factor – criminal, security, etc. – we will extend visas for foreign journalists, for one year each time, and we will not refuse. The agreement is that we will extend in the absence of other factors.
Chairman Raleb Majadele:: Is the agreement current, that you have agreed to forego the recommendation of the GPO?
Sabin Hadad: It is not a recommendation. They only decide who is considered a journalist and who is not, that’s their job.
Chairman Raleb Majadele: I am not going into the professional aspect. Have you decided to forego the recommendation of the GPO?
Sabin Hadad: It is possible to say that we have foregone the recommendation.
Chairman Raleb Majadele: Meaning that a journalist whose 63 months in Israel are up brings directly to you the confirmation of his continued employment by his newspaper abroad and you clarify with the GPO whether or not he is a journalist?
Shalom Ben-Moshe: They confirm that he is a journalist working in the country.
Sabin Hadad: He goes to the GPO with confirmation that he’s a journalist and we make a decision, whether or not to extend his visa. We do not receive a recommendation from the GPO: I recommend to extend or not. We only receive confirmation regarding his employment as a journalist. Another thing that was made clear by our Legal Adviser during the meetings is that if they tell us that after five years a person is no longer a journalist, it’s not the end of the story”.

Shalom Ben-Moshe [Director of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry Foreign Workers Unit]: I am the head of the Unit for Foreign Workers and I am the one who issues work permits in the country. In effect, not every non-Israeli in whatever work in the country is called a foreign worker. They can be university professors and there are these, scientists and soccer coaches and women foreign workers from the Philipines and journalists as well … The law determines that whoever wants to work in Israel must submit an application for a work permit, and it is not currently important from who. He receives a work permit for a year and renews his work permit annually. If he is an expert in the medical field, for instance, he must bring a permit from the Health Ministry that he is indeed an expert in his field; if he is a university scientist, he must bring a permit from the university; if he is a soccer coach, he must bring a permit from the soccer federation that he is indeed a coach.
Ahmed Tibi: That’s all. A recommendation that he is a good player is not required.
Chairman Raleb Majadele: Then there is positive discrimination in favor of journalists that they get visas for 63 months?
Shalom Ben-Moshe: No. The visa is renewed every year, for up to five years, for up to 63 months. After 63 months, the law determines that a person cannot stay in the country for any reason, he must leave the country. If he wants to work beyond this period he must submit a special request, which comes to me.

Chairman Raleb Majadele: Then what is the GPO needed for?
Shalom Ben-Moshe: According to the new arrangement, the GPO confirms that the person is indeed a journalist and works for this or that recognized foreign company. Up until now, it recommended and from now it confirms that the person is indeed a journalist working for this or that newspaper.
Chairman Raleb Majadele: Journalists are like scientists?
Shalom Ben-Moshe: Exactly, like doctors, scientists or any other worker.

Ahmed Tibi: This position of yours has been known for a month or two. In practice, have Mr. Jorg Bremer, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung correspondent, and Ms. Wafa Amar, the Reuters correspondent, received extensions? They applied, there is confirmation that they are journalists, Reuters and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung have applied as official insitutions to the GPO and to you. Have you issued them visas?
Sabin Hadad: Wafa Amar’s visa was approved already a year ago but nobody did anything. They spoke to us at the end of February, they asked what was happening with the year visa. We said that the GPO has the confirmation and that they should go there. They didn’t. Until a week ago, when we renewed it for another year, they didn’t do anything. That is, she was here and for 1.5 years illegally so, of her own volition. Her visa from September 2005 had been approved.
Ahmed Tibi: Now that she will apply, will she receive?
Sabin Hadad: She came a week ago and has already received it.
Moshe Gafni: Why didn’t she come to take the visa?
Ahmed Tibi: They sent her all over the place. I know her. There is a problem with Mr. Seaman. Maybe he will be able to comment on this.

Chairman Raleb Majadele: I believe that the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, and the Interior Ministry, and the Population Administration, and the GPO champion freedom of expression and freedom of the press. I am sure of it.
Sara Marom-Shalev
[MK – member of committee] : Why did they bring this up then?
Shalom Ben-Moshe: I do not recall an instance in which a journalist who asked did not receive an answer.
Chairman Raleb Majadele: Why did it have to come to this? What interest does the State of Israel have in visa extensions for foreign journalists coming up for a Knesset committee discussion? … What interest do we have? We want a country that receives people cheerfully. Who has an interest here? We invest a lot of money in our overseas emissaries so that they will promote the state’s image. Here, we could do this for free. True, one cannot trust everything that’s written in a newspaper, but do we need to discuss this? Who needs such a thing? We want to be a state that is counted among the free, democratic and enlightened countries that is an example for others, and we can be like this.
Daniel Seaman: I would like to thank the Chairman and MK Tibi for giving us the opportunity to clarify the issues. As you see, many things are not clear. You asked a correct question, why did it need to come to this? As someone who deals with the issue, having worked with the press for 15 years, six of these as the [GPO] Director, I say that there didn’t have to be this problem. The GPO has never strayed into areas that are the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry or the Population Administration. Moreover, I can only commend their work, their responsiveness, their readiness to help us. I have no arguments with these bodies and whoever testifies against them does not understand the issue.
I would like to vigorously reject any hint to the effect that the GPO works according to invalid considerations. First of all, there is no recommendation from the GPO and there never was. I note the example of the letter we wrote for Mr. Jorg Bremer, an action that the GPO does as a service to foreign journalists. I can attest to MK Ahmed Tibi that even if a journalist was critical of him, we do not invalidate a correspondent because of his criticism of MK Ahmed Tibi. We do not enter into the contents of journalists’ reports … The GPO is the body that identifies journalists in Israel, especially foreign journalists. Many people come here and indentify themselves. We work according to rules that have been approved by the Attorney General’s Office. They were approved by the High Court of Justice and were amended according to High Court of Justice decisions over the years. The decision of who is a journalist and who not is given via a GPO card. Afterwards, the bearer of our cards – and there are several kinds – is eligible for the services of the GPO.
In practice, as has been mentioned, the journalist can do everything directly with the Interior Ministry, the Population Administration and the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. The journalists can apply to them directly and then the Population Administration asks the GPO if the person is recognized by us as a journalist, that’s all. In practice, I approve that a person has a press card, no more. True, the letter opens with the words ‘I recommend’; we thought to put it positively but there is no letter that says ‘I do not recommend.’ I know of no person who carries a GPO card who did not receive the GPO’s recommendation when he applied to us. By the way, this is not required. Journalists can come and take only the letter but we do more. An employee of mine, Ms. Sharon Goldhammer, basically does the work for journalists so that they do not need to stand in line, in order to help those who come from different cultures. You know this, cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings. We help them so that everything is done in one office: A journalist arriving in the country does everything via the GPO as a service of the State to those journalists.
n.b., a year ago, around the beginning of 2009, journalists were informed that Sharon Goldhammer was no longer doing this service for journalists — on the apparent basis that a journalist had been rude to her. This change may or may not have been in practice for a few months already in 2008. In any case, the journalists now have to stand in line at the chaotic Ministry of Interior.]

Daniel Seaman: … [As] has been said here, we identify this person as a journalist. By the way, many foreign journalists do not speak Hebrew. With English or Arabic, it is yet possible to get by at the Interior Ministry but a Japanese or Chinese journalist, a journalist who speaks Turkish, French or another language, will encounter difficulties at the Interior Ministry. The GPO does everything for them. If there is a misunderstanding, if the forms are not filled in, it’s done for them, they do not have to run all over the place. We know how the bureaucratic processes go in the country, not only at the Interior Ministry but at all ministries. There is an English expression that ‘No good deed goes unpunished’ – this is our case exactly. The service that we have tried to provide journalists, to arrange things for them, somebody tried to use it to cast suspicions to the effect that irrelevant considerations come into play here. I reiterate, the content of publications and even the issue of freedom of expression, is not a consideration at all, it doesn’t even come into it. The person wants service from the Interior Ministry. If he is not recognized by us as a journalist, he does not receive a letter from us, this is where everything starts and ends. True, we wrote ‘recommend’ for appearance’s sake, that it should look nice. Do you want us to delete the word ‘recommend’? We’ll delete it. For historical background: A journalist who comes here, in the first five years, must renew his visa annually, for himself and his family. With this process there is no problem. In the past, the same process applied for beyond five years. The problem began in February three years ago when the legislature enacted a law that restricts presence [in the country] to 63 months. This is where we encountered the first problems. Despite the journalists’ position and their suspicion that someone among us, in the bureaucracy, is trying to harm them, the consideration is not ours. Moreover, neither us, nor the Interior Ministry, nor the clerks, nor the GPO, has the job of criticizing the legislature. You decide – we carry it out. No thought was given regarding journalist, so we decided to try to find a solution within the system. We brought several proposals. To our dismay, there have been three Interior Ministers in three years, including the Prime Minister in an acting capacity, and whenever a decision by the Interior Minister was needed, the process was postponed, but the Population Administration and the Interior Ministry responded to each and every applicant. In the specific instance of Mr. Jorg Bremer, there was no reason for the issue to reach the press. He applied to us in September, using the same process that everyone does, and we dealt with him like we deal with everyone. He was only asked to wait patiently until after the holidays for the committee to convene.
Ahmed Tibi: You certainly regret the remarks that were published in the newspaper and attributed to you.
Daniel Seaman: I regret that it was published. This certainly wasn’t my official reaction to things. I was certainly angry with the journalist’s false testimony that was presented. It was claimed in the newspaper that Mr. Jorg Bremer had not been treated fairly. Here is a photograph of the flowers that he sent to my employee [shows a photograph of a bouqet of flowers to the committee]. If this is his response to unfair treatment, I don’t know how he responds to fair treatment. I don’t know what he felt. I know that he received good service. I must point out that the GPO Director is not involved in the process. I have a faithful employee who deals with journalists, knows them, and deals with all of their personal needs. She also dealt with this issue. Mr. Jorg Bremer was a bit anxious, didn’t believe in the system and asked to speak to me. I was happy to help him. I don’t know how pleased I am today but I was happy then to help him. I certainly reget the remarks and I am even ashamed of them. I will try not to repeat them, certainly not to journalists.

Chairman Raleb Majadele: You said that there has been a turnover of Interior Ministers and that as an organization you want to promote solutions for journalists. Where do things stand?
Daniel Seaman: In practice, the solution is already working, therefore we did not understand what was the need. In the newspaper, it was presented as if I was telling him to conceal some truth. I asked him not to take steps because the system works. Why make noise on this issue at the moment? Until his application, 15 journalists’ applications had been submitted, including that of the person sitting here, the head of the BBC office, who – as far as I know – was the first for whom an application for an exception had been submitted, and everybody responded positively. In Mr. Jorg Bremer’s case, he was impatient to wait until the committee convened.
Chairman Raleb Majadele: Are there Foreign Ministry representatives here? What is your position?
Tamar Sam-Ash:
We are interested that a solution be found for everyone in the framework of the law. As I understand it, the solution is at hand. We are certainly interested that journalists here will be able to do their work as efficiently as possible and report on what happens in the country as they see it.
Chairman Raleb Majadele: Representatives of the FPA [Foreign Press Association] may speak. Anybody care to comment?
Simon MacGregor [FPA] : I would like to thank you for inviting us here today. It is a pleasure to be here. After having listened to the testimony that has been presented here, it is difficult to identify where in the system the problem lays. We have the impression that there is a new approach of cooperation and a desire to improve the process of renewing visas for those who stay beyond five years and make it smoother. It is also true to say that in the past year we have encountered problems in the visa-renewal system and in the lack of transparency, which our members find difficult to understand. Several cases were brought to our attention in which the renewal of the visa took much longer than it should have. As of yesterday, two of our German colleagues, who checked again at the Interior Ministry, have still not had their visas renewed. It is possible that the delay is for bureaucratic reasons.
Chairman Raleb Majadele: As of yesterday they did not have visas. Has the validity of their visas expired, are they now in the country illegally or is there still time until their visas expire?
Simon MacGregor: From a work permit point-of-view, they are now working illegally.
Ahmed Tibi: Even though they submitted applications.
Sabin Hadad: They are in the country illegally because they did not go and do it, but the computer already lists them as having received visas. I said this yesterday as well. There is a misunderstanding here. I spoke with the visa department today myself and I even went one step further and called Mr. Bremer to tell him to go to the Ministry to bring the visa.
David Azoulay: From which office will the visa be obtained, from the Population Administration?
Sabin Hadad: Yes. Maybe there was some misunderstanding about the place.
Daniel Seaman: As soon as the process started, a journalist works legally. When he is in the process, he is not an illegal worker.

Sara Marom-Shalev : … I am sure that a journalist can not be like any foreign worker. The status of a journalist must be different. He doesn’t need approval from the Ministry of Industry Trade and Labor. There is the Interior Ministry, there is the GPO – these two need to discuss with the Ministry of Industry Trade and Labor. A journalist that is a foreign worker – that’s a bit strange.
Shalom Ben-Moshe: Then the law should be changed. A person working in Israel needs to receive a permit.
Ahmed Tibi: Its possible to include them in a specific group and give them a press visa.
Shalom Ben-Moshe: The foreign journalist is no different than the foreign professor who comes to work in a university.

Sara Marom-Shalev: We must be more wary of journalists than with professors.
Shalom Ben-Moshe: But there is no difficulty to give him a work permit.
Ahmed Tibi: How many journalists are waiting to have their visas renewed?
Sharon Goldhammer: Not even one is waiting in my department. There is one journalist who will receive a visa renewal tomorrow morning.
Ahmed Tibi: What about Ms. Wafa Amar?
Sharon Goldhammer: I am responsible for foreign journalists only. I must say that this functions very effectively. A journalist who submits a request to the committee waits 30 days at the most in order to receive an answer….
Naama Pelai [attorney from the Interior Ministry Legal Adviser’s Office]: In the Entry into Israel Law no special visa has been determined for journalists. The relevent visa is a visa for foreign workers. A foreign worker is also a foreign worker in construction, agriculture or nursing care, as well as an expert – a bank manager, an athlete and so on. Therefore, presently, as far as the law is concerned, there is no other way to define a journalist other than a foreign worker B/1 visa. This allows for an extension after five years in special circumstances as defined in the paragraph, and in that framework a way was found to extend journalists’ visas after five years. We are working on amending the regulations, that will determine precisely the types of people for whom it will be possible to grant an extension after five years. Groups will be specifically defined for which an extension will be given after five years. But even today it functions within the framework of the paragraph of the law. Legally, these are the only ways available today to resolve this problem and it is impossible to do this with a special visa or special license.
Chairman Raleb Majadele: I haven’t heard where the visa request of Ms. Wafa Amar from Reuters stands.
Sabin Hadad: I thought that that was closed. A week ago she was in the office. They called from the office to see if it was approved, and it was approved.
Ahmed Tibi: This morning she still did not have a visa” …


In Jared Malsin’s case — though it has not been stated by anyone (or even hinted at) — perhaps the only possibility is that officials of the Israeli government think that Ma’an News Agency itself should have, or could have, made an effort via the Palestinian Authority to request a work permit from Israel?  Otherwise, what other avenue is there?   This is not at all clear.


UPDATE SIX: The NY-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has written on the organization’s website that “The Israeli Ministry of Interior issued a deportation order on Wednesday morning against Malsin for ‘security reasons’, according to his lawyer, Castro Daoud.  ‘Interrogation transcripts show that Malsin was deemed a security risk because of his political beliefs’, Daoud told CPJ.  ‘Security at the airport gathered news stories written by him which they deemed critical of the State of Israel’. He added that security officials also interrogated Malsin about a pro-Palestinian activist group called the International Solidarity Movement. ‘My client has no affiliation with any activist group; the allegations that he represents a security risk are baseless’, Daoud added.  ‘We are alarmed by the Israeli government’s efforts to deport Jared Malsin on vague security charges’, said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem.  ‘We call on the Israeli authorities to ensure that our colleague be allowed to carry out his work without further harassment’.  Malsin was slated for expulsion back to Prague at 6:05 a.m. on January 14 but Daoud succeeded in obtaining an injunction against the order.  ‘We successfully appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court to overrule the Ministry of Interior’s decision thanks to pressure from the U.S. Embassy’, Daoud told CPJ.   Israeli authorities do not recognize Ma’an as a news organization and as such Malsin has been entering Israel and the Occupied Territories on three-month visitor’s visas.  Malsin’s colleagues say that he is known to the Israeli military and civilian authorities and had recently been invited to tour a military base on a settlement in the occupied West Bank.  Malsin has been denied access to a shower, clean clothes, and reading and writing materials, according to Hale, who was able to briefly talk to Malsin on Thursday morning”.  This CPJ notice is posted here


"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”.