Palestinians walk next to Israeli security forces at the entrance of the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount at morning after Israel removed the new security measures there, in Jerusalem's Old City.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
In recent weeks, both local and foreign journalists in Israel have been prevented from doing their jobs due to being denied access to areas in which news events are taking place.
After publishing a protest statement last month, the Foreign Press Association this week submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice claiming police and other security forces used violent tactics against journalists trying to cover the unrest and its aftermath in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The petition said the FPA is seeking an end to these violent tactics, and wants police guarantees that journalists will not be hindered from doing their work and will be able to cover news events “freely, safely and securely.”
According to both local and foreign journalists, the rough treatment is not something new. It’s been going on for years with representatives of media outlets and journalist associations protesting to police and other authorities. In return they’ve received promises of no substance. Camera crews and photojournalists continue to have their equipment smashed while journalists are beaten by police and injured – some seriously. Journalists have also been repeatedly barred from entering the Old City, or if permitted, subsequently restricted from approaching the Temple Mount and Al-Aksa, to which tourists have free access.
Additionally, they have suffered both verbal and physical abuse at the hands of security authorities and there has been no reaction from the government.
The FPA regards this as “a shameful performance for a country that boasts that it is the Middle East’s only democracy and claims to be committed to freedom of the press.”
Although the situation has become somewhat calmer and police have now relented and are permitting access, based on past experience the FPA executive is wondering just how long it will be before restrictions are once again imposed.
Though aware the legal battle will be difficult, the FPA is determined that it must go ahead with the case in hopes the court will send out a clear message that violence against journalists in a democratic society is unacceptable and “blocking access to news events on so-called security grounds should be the exception, not the norm.”
The statement published by the FPA on July 23, deplored the situation created by the security authorities who refused to recognize press cards issued by the Government Press Office. While tourists were permitted to enter and exit the Old City, journalists were held for questioning. If permitted to enter, they were relegated to positions that were too distant from al-Aksa to enable them to gather any information of news value or take relevant photographs following the terrorist attack on the Temple Mount.
However, any tourist with a smartphone could take photos which they could upload on social media as they had access, while professional press photographers could not shoot the same scenes.
The FPA understands that security issues may take priority in volatile and high risk situations but fails to understand why journalists are denied the same access given to tourists.