Friday, January 9, 2009

Another Casualty of Gaza

Alongside the many civilians killed in Gaza lies another casualty of the fighting: press freedom in Israel. Even though the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that international reporters be permitted to cover the war, Israeli officials turn them back at the border. The officials claim to do this out or security considerations, but surely they are also motivated by a desire to limit coverage of the fighting.

As Ethan Bronner reported in the Times January 6,
Three times in recent days, a small group of foreign correspondents was told to appear at the border crossing to Gaza. The reporters were to be permitted in to cover firsthand the Israeli war on Hamas in keeping with a Supreme Court ruling against the two-month-old Israeli ban on foreign journalists entering Gaza.

Each time, they were turned back on security grounds, even as relief workers and other foreign citizens were permitted to cross the border.

I'm not an expert on Israeli law, so I don't know how the officials get to defy the Supreme Court. But I do know that Israel inherited a bundle of laws from the time of the British Mandate that permit varied forms of censorship and keeping of secrets. Despite these, the vigorous Israeli press has kept alive a robust tradition of reporting and debate. And Israel's Supreme Court, to its credit, recognizes the value of independent journalism.

By keeping international reporters out of Gaza, Israel blinds itself to what it is doing. At the same time, stories and images get out. The deaths and suffering inside Gaza are hardly a secret.

But also troubling to me is the readiness of Israeli officials to create facts on the ground, so to speak, that inhibit journalists. This is not a good sign for freedom of information and debate inside Israel.

Over the years, I have watched the costs of occupation and military unilateralism compromise the character of Israeli democracy. Keeping the news media out Gaza is an example of this.

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