3-justice High Court panel warns correspondents from abroad they will enter Strip "at their own risk."
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
The High Court of Justice on Wednesday proposed that the government allow a small group of foreign journalists to enter the Gaza Strip as part of a pool of reporters.
The recommendation by Israel's highest court weakens a nearly two-month old government ban on foreign correspondents from entering Gaza, but falls far short of overturning the ban and restoring the total press access demanded in a lawsuit filed by a group of international reporters based in Israel.
The court's proposal, which is pending approval of both sides, would allow a pool of up to 12 foreign journalists into the Hamas-run territory only when the border is already open for humanitarian shipments.
The court gave the State until Thursday morning to respond to the idea, while the petitioners will have until noon Thursday to respond to the State's position.
Wednesday's court discussion dealt with foreign press coverage of Gaza in the wake of this week's massive Israeli assault on Hamas targets in Gaza.
The Tel Aviv-based Foreign Press Association, which represents foreign correspondents based in Israel and the Palestinian territories, filed the suit last month after the government imposed a blanket ban on foreign correspondents from entering the Hamas-ruled territory following an upswing in Palestinian rocket attacks.
The court's proposal was tepidly welcomed Wednesday by the FPA.
"Anything that the court does that furthers our goal of ensuring free access to the Gaza Strip for the international media we view as positive," said FPA Chairman Steven Gutkin, who serves as Jerusalem bureau chief of The Associated Press.
At the same time, Gutkin said that he hoped that the court would broaden its decision in the future.
"We note that the court ruling is limited in scope and we hope that the court will view positively our other wider position as well," he said.
An attorney for the FPA said that the State had no right to determine who can cover the fighting from inside Gaza.
"We're pleased with the court's decision," said attorney Gilad Sher. "Media coverage is one of the cornerstones of democracy and you can't restrict foreign reporters so drastically."
Hila Gorni, an attorney for the State, said that the opening and closing of the border for the foreign press presented a security risk at the present time.
The Defense Ministry declined comment on the court proposal on Wednesday.
The head of the Government Press Office said Wednesday that he prefers Palestinian stringers and reporters covering the news from Gaza instead of foreign journalists since international journalists are routinely used and exploited by the Islamic regime.
"Based on our experience from the war in Lebanon and the way the foreign press has conducted itself in Gaza, we know that Hamas is in complete control of the news, and that reports from Gaza are carried out under duress," GPO Director Danny Seaman said.
"Foreign media in Gaza will become fig leafs for the news, and will give credibility to the reporting," he said.
The petition charges that the ban constitutes "a grave and mortal blow against freedom of the press and other basic rights," and gives the unpleasant feeling that the state of Israel has something to hide.
The ban was eased several weeks ago after the suit was filed with Israel's highest court, but then subsequently reimposed.
The government has long banned Israeli journalists from entering Gaza due to concerns over their safety, but has previously always allowed foreign journalists in even during times of fierce fighting.
The Defense Ministry has said that foreign journalists will be allowed back into Gaza when Palestinians stop firing rockets at Israel.
Israel has also voiced its displeasure over the international media's balance in their coverage of events in Gaza, inflating Palestinian suffering, while not always making clear that Israeli military actions were in response to Palestinian attacks.
The three-justice panel, which was headed by Court President Dorit Beinisch, will decide how to proceed with the petition following the responses given to the court's proposal by both sides.
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