Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for Al Jazeera to be banned in Israel, citing incitement, as journalists complain of mistreatment by police in the capital’s Old City and threaten to go to the High Court.
In a Wednesday-night Facebook post, the prime minister accused the Qatari-owned television channel, which broadcasts in English and Arabic from Israel and has an office in Jerusalem, of incitement.
“Al Jazeera doesn’t stop provoking violence around the Temple Mount,” Netanyahu wrote. “I asked law enforcement several times to close Al Jazeera’s office in Jerusalem. If this does not happen because of legal interpretations, I will act to pass the necessary laws to remove Al Jazeera from Israel.”
Meanwhile, journalists reported being banned from entering Jerusalem’s Old City for much of recent events, and, in some cases, facing police violence.
Jerusalem Post Chief Photographer Marc Israel Sellem’s ID card was confiscated on Sunday, and police only returned it to him after he left the Old City.
On Wednesday, police forced Sellem to erase photos, and an officer told him he’s “shit like all journalists.”
“All week, they didn’t let me take photos,” Sellem lamented.
“The ones taking the pictures are Palestinians with phones. There’s no coverage by Israeli journalists. That’s dangerous.”
Another photojournalist, Gali Tibbon, said “police are only allowing their official photographers in. They’re trying to control the narrative and do our job for us, but in the end, the narrative is being controlled by Palestinians with cellphones.”
When it comes to access to the Old City, the police “have a different excuse every time,” Tibbon said.
Tibbon also reported that police officers beat several photographers.
“This is about freedom of the press and democracy,” she said.
The photographers met with Police Commissioner Insp.- Gen. Roni Alsheich on Thursday to lay out their complaints, and he said he would look into them. A police spokesman declined to comment on the matter.
The Union of Journalists in Israel demanded that the police solve the problems with access and violence against journalists in the Old City.
“We received real-time reports at night of police violence toward journalists in Jerusalem that included, among other things, throwing stun grenades and unjustified arrest of the photograph Faiz Abu Rmeleh. The union made contact with Jerusalem Police to criticize their behavior and stayed in touch until they agreed to free the photographer,” the union wrote on Facebook. “We plan to demand clarifications and explanations about Abu Rmeleh, since false arrests of journalists have become routine, and harms their ability to do their jobs and serve the public.”
The Foreign Press Association, which represents journalists in Israel from 360 news outlets in 32 countries, sent a letter to the police, Government Press Office, Public Security Ministry and Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit complaining that journalists are being banned from Jerusalem’s Old City, saying that the letter is the last step before petitioning the High Court of Justice.
“In recent days, members of the FPA were banned sweepingly and without legal or other justification from the Old City of Jerusalem in general, and through the Lions’ Gate specifically, while tourists and citizens were allowed to enter without limits,” the letter from their attorney reads.
“Our clients have press cards that the Government Press Office gives out, according to the criteria it set, including agreement from security factors that those who have the cards do not endanger national security.
“Unfortunately, these cards are not honored by security forces,” the letter adds.
The FPA accused the police of rudeness and sometimes serious violence that endangers journalists’ lives.
Not allowing journalists into the Old City prevents them from covering events in realtime and hurts their work and professional integrity, the FPA argued, and there is no legal reason to keep them out of those areas.
“Our clients think this comes from political reasons,” the letter states.
Government Press Office Director Nitzan Chen said that the matter is being looked into.
“In general, limitations on journalistic coverage must only be in cases when there is significant danger to human life. A prohibition to cover events must only be in extreme cases in which lives are truly in danger,” he said.
Should it be found that police officers restricted journalists’ movement “randomly or unnecessarily, conclusions will be draw and lessons will be learned,” he added.
“The leadership of the Israel Police know that freedom of the press is an important value in Israel that must be followed,” Chen said.