On Tuesday night, the Foreign Press Association in Israel published the
following statement: “The Foreign Press Association demands that Israeli
Authorities immediately cease undressing foreign and Arab journalists at
This outrageous policy is an affront to common sense, an
assault on human dignity and a blight upon the State of Israel. It simply must
“The latest outrage occurred earlier today when 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
“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
“We respect Israel’s need to maintain tight security. 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.
“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 [Prize] Laureate and
outspoken advocate of human rights and progressive thinking.
respectfully call on the president to use the influence of his office to end
The fact of the matter is that the president has no
authority over the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), and journalists are not
the only people who suffer indignities and humiliation at the hands of its
Interviewed by Yaakov Ahimeir on Israel Radio on Wednesday
morning, Government Press Office director Oren Helman denied that there was a
policy of discrimination against Arab journalists. He said that Public Diplomacy
and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein is concerned about the way that
foreign journalists are treated, and conceded that what was done to the
cameraman was a blow to Israel’s image.
He also publicly apologized to
the cameraman who had been subjected to special security scrutiny.
interview with Ahimeir, Helman said that security was not the province of the
Government Press Office, implying that if it was, there would be fewer
Al Jazeera bureau chief Walid al-Omary told Ahimeir that
while he understood security concerns, Arab journalists should not be treated
differently to non-Arab journalists. If additional security precautions must be
taken, he said, they should apply to everyone and not just to Arabs.
the cameraman had called him, he said, he had instructed him to abort the
assignment and to leave.
Al Jazeera representatives have frequently been
targeted by security personnel.
In January of this year, Al Jazeera
reporter Najwan Simri Diab was among many journalists who responded to an
invitation issued by the Government Press Office to attend a New Year’s
reception that would be addressed by Prime Minister Binyamin
The event is held annually at the David Citadel Hotel, where
security is very tight.
Nonetheless, very few of the invitees are asked
to strip. Diab, who was pregnant, was taken out of the line by security officers
and asked to remove her clothes. She did so, but refused to take off her bra.
She was told that unless she did, she would not be allowed to enter. She chose
to preserve what was left of her dignity, and gave the prime minister a miss.
This was the sixth time she had been at such a reception, and she carries a
press card issued by the GPO, but that was of little use to her.
and other non-Arab journalists were also subjected to strip searches, including
photographer Menachem Kahana and the bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal,
among others. Some had to wait in their underwear for as long as twenty minutes
until their papers were checked In another instance, a haredi rabbi attending
another ceremony at the President’s Residence was kept waiting outside in the
heat for well over half an hour because his name was not in the computer, even
though he had an invitation and various documents testifying to his
On another occasion, soldiers who came to the President’s
Residence on Independence Day to receive citations and scholarships for
outstanding service, were made to remove their belts, their pants and their
boots before being permitted into the compound.
There is little
consolation in the fact that Jews receive similar treatment.
the dignity of the individual is sacrificed on the altar of security, when a
polite word of explanation and something in the nature of an apology would go a
long way in avoiding resentment at loss of respect.
with Yom Kippur almost upon us, the Shin Bet which sets the rules for guarding
the key figures of the state, should review its actions so that the people it
protects, such as the president, should not have to apologize for the security
service’s trampling on human dignity.