UN rapporteur takes Israel, Palestinians to task

By DAVID ROSENBERG / THE MEDIA LINE
December 19, 2011 14:37

La Rue invited by Israel, PA; devotes most of his time to Israeli violations of freedom of expression.

4 minute read.



UN Official Frank La Rue and Rvilin

UN Official Frank La Rue and Rvilin _311. (photo credit: Lahav Harkov)

The United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression took the Palestinians, but mostly Israel to task for a host of violations against journalists and others, citing issues from the arrest of reporters in Gaza to the inability of Arabic-speaking students to complete their degrees in Arabic.

Presenting his findings at a news conference in Jerusalem on Sunday, Frank La Rue devoted most of his time to Israeli violations both inside the country’s pre-1967 borders as well as in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He cited violations such as arbitrary arrests and overnight detentions of journalists, banning of conferences, attacks on journalists and raids of media officials.

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La Rue, who was invited by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, spent five days each in Palestinian-ruled areas and in Israel in December and said he will issue his final report in June.

He devoted a significant amount of time to a single incident where Palestinian protesters in Gaza approached the Erez crossing on May 15 and were met by Israeli army fire. He faulted the IDF for responding with live fire, saying its solders were in no way endangered because they were positioned by concrete walls.

La Rue said that certain newspapers and radio stations that were regarded as pro-Hamas have been banned in the West Bank, which is ruled by the rival Fatah movement. Conversely, in Gaza, Hamas has banned pro-Fatah media. He termed the ban “symbolic” because it did not encompass the internet and recommended that it be lifted “to create a more conducive environment for dialogue and mutual understanding.”

Fatah and Hamas have been revials since their brief national unity government collapsed in 2007 when Hamas seized control of Gaza in a bloody coup. But La Rue indicated that Hamas imposed more restrictions on freedom of expression.

“There is a general atmosphere of self-censorship in Gaza,” he told the news conference, basing his views on meetings with officials, journalists and non-governmental organizations. “I did not hear the same think in the West Bank,” he said.

A report on press freedom released in September by the New York-based human rights organization Freedom House rated the Palestinian areas as “not free” and cited violence, arrests, threats, and restrictions on distribution and broadcasting, saying that "cumulative pressure has driven many journalists to practice self-censorship.” Freedom House raised Israel from “partly free” to “free” in its 2010 report.

In October, the international media organization Reporters Without Borders claimed that the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate headquarters was seized by partisan journalists and members of the Islamic Jihad organization.

Earlier in the month, Hamas imposed new requirement on visiting foreign journalists, including naming a local “guarantor.” La Rue noted this in a single sentence although he admitted that the practice would limit the ability of journalists to report freely for fear of risking the lives of guarantors.

Regarding Israel, La Rue said he was “encouraged by the free and vibrant press in Israel,” but expressed concern that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) censor has the right to vet news on national security issues before publishing. He was especially critical of a host of parliamentary initiative against the media that he claimed “contravene international” standards on freedom of expression.

One of the three laws he cited was the Nakba Law, which was approved by lawmakers in March, allowing the government to reduce funding of organizations that reject Israel’s existence as a "Jewish and democratic state" and/or commemorates its Independence Day as a "catastrophe."

“This law violates the right of Palestinians to mark Israel Independence Day as a national day of mourning,” he said. “[It] violates their right to freely express their opinion, preserve their history and culture, and their right to commemorate… an integral part of their history.”

La Rue also criticized the Anti-Boycott Law, approved in July, which allows civil suits to be filed against people calling for a boycott of Israel or settlements in the West Bank. He expressed disapproval of another law requiring non-government organizations to report on a quarterly basis any foreign funding they receive.

Proposed legislation increasing the fine for defaming someone six-fold to 300,000 shekels ($79,000) will create a “significant chilling effect,” he said.

Regarding the case of Anat Kamm, the Israeli soldier who leaked confidential information of IDF targeted killings, La Rue said that the principles of Wikileaks apply in this situation, namely that media outlets should not be sanctioned for publishing leaked information but the leaker should as an individual be subject to sanctions for violating the term of his or her labor contract.

Kamm was convicted last February to reduced charges of leaking classified materials and in October was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison and 18 months probation.


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