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Israelis and Palestinians journalists unite for more press freedom

Fadi Abu Sada for (MENASSAT) On September 12, members of the Israeli Jerusalem Association of Journalists (JAJ) and the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) met separately in Jerusalem with a delegation from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to discuss Israeli policies towards journalists working in Israel and Palestinian Territories.

At the end of the meeting, leaders of the Jerusalem Association of Journalists proposed setting up a regional forum to encourage joint action by Palestinian and Israeli journalists on issues such as safety and freedom of movement. They also suggest setting up a hotline to help journalists in trouble.

"This would be a major step forward for journalists," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. "Joint action by Israeli and Palestinian journalists to tackle problems both groups face – such as restrictions on freedom of movement – will strengthen efforts to remove obstacles to the exercise of journalism."


Palestinian journalists say that Israeli restrictions on movement between Gaza and the West Bank are proving an obstacle to organizing a conference of their syndicate.

Significantly, a top representative of the JAJ, Haim Shibi, spoke out publicly for the first time about Israeli journalists' concerns for the conditions under which Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have to work.

"We recognize the problems. It is clearly unacceptable that Palestinian journalists are unable to meet to organize themselves. Israel should allow journalists to move freely and all journalists, both Palestinian and Israeli, should be able to carry out their professional duties in safety and without fear or intimidation," Shibi said.

The head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PSJ) Naeem Tobasy has argued the point for years.

He told MENASSAT, "Now there are serious attempts under way by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and the IFJ to pressure Israel into implementing a new policy to deal with Palestinian journalists and their issues."

It is routine for Palestinian reporters to be denied access to areas that are easily accessible to their Israeli colleagues. Examples include not being allowed into Jerusalem without a special permit – "something the Israeli government is notorious for not extending," Tobasy said.

Tobasy himself has been unable to reach his office, which is in Jerusalem.

"I applied a few days ago for a permit to enter Jerusalem through the Palestinian General Authority of Civil Affairs and it was denied. I reported the incident to the IFJ," he said.


Tobasy noted that, in the past, neither Israeli journalists nor their representative unions have made any statements protesting Israeli measures against Palestinian journalists.

The PSJ cited instances where Palestinian journalists were killed in action, as was the case when an Israeli tank shell killed a Reuters cameraman in Gaza, Fadel Shana’a, last April. The Israeli soldiers were cleared of any wrongdoing after a military inquiry.

Under the circumstances, it is understandable that many Palestinian journalists are skeptical about the JAJ's statement, dismissing it as “"ere press talk that will never be implemented on the ground."

"Nothing will change," Tobasy said, adding that a Palestinian paper will be presented for discussion at the next meeting of the executive committee of IFJ, to be held in Paris next month.

Still, it is something of an accomplishment that the IFJ's Jerusalem initiative managed to accomplish anything at all.

In 2006, the JAJ temporarily suspended its membership of the IFJ after IFJ president Aidan White had condemned the Israeli bombing of Al-Manar, the Hebollah TV station, during the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese militia.

It is still a soar point, as evidenced by JAJ leader Haim Shibi's refusal to speak to MENASSAT'S correspondentt.

"It [MENASSAT] might belong to Hezbollah or [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah," Shibi said.

(It does not.)

Encouraging at least is that individual Israeli journalists showed solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues.

"Freedom of movement is vital for a journalist to perform his duties," said Yoav Stern, a reporter with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Stern said the issue has been brought up numerous times in meetings with Daniel Seaman, director of the Israeli government's Media Office.

"Seaman shouldn't interfere in favor of one journalist or another – whether the reporter is British or Palestinian. For Palestinians, this decision is purely political."
Stern noted that, as an Israeli reporter, he has been allowed total freedom of movement in the Palestinian Territories.

"I think it should be the other way around as well. It should be possible for Palestinian journalists to enter Israel and report its positive and negative news with total freedom of movement," he said.
But even Stern had to admit that there are no indications that Israel will amend its restrictive policies towards Palestinian journalists working in the Palestinian Territories anytime soon.