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An Israeli border policeman shouts at journalists during clashes with between Israeli troops and Palestinian protesters near the Jewish settlement of Bet El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah October 30, 2015..(Photo by: REUTERS)
Police censorship: A free press is the lifeblood of Israeli democracy
No coherent explanation has been given by the police for the way journalists have been treated.
During the past two weeks of unrest in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, police forces have restricted access to journalists attempting to cover the events.

On occasion they have used violence.

Sinan Abu Maizer, a cameraman with Reuters, suffered a concussion after being beaten by police with a baton near Lions’ Gate a week ago Thursday, according to a complaint addressed to Jerusalem District Police commander Yoram Halevy by the Association for Human Rights. The incident is captured on video.

In another incident, Faiz Abu Rmeleh, a freelance journalist and a member of the photojournalism group ActiveStills, was arrested Tuesday night while covering clashes at Lions’ Gate. A video seems to contradict police charges that Abu Rmeleh was aggressive. Following Abu Rmeleh’s arrest, the Union of Journalists in Israel published a statement calling on the police to provide clarifications and explanations.

Jerusalem Post chief photographer Marc Israel Sellem’s ID card was confiscated last 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.”

Other journalists who have suffered from police brutality or who have been prevented from covering the events in Jerusalem include Ynet website’s Hassan Shaalan, who was pushed to the ground near the Lions’ Gate; Haaretz’s reporter Yotam Berger; and photographer Emil Salman, who were prevented access to the Lions’ Gate while tourists and others were allowed in; Sky News Arabia’s Nidal Kanaaneh, who was harassed while broadcasting; and Shireen Younes, who was attacked by police at the Al-Makassed hospital, adjacent to the Lions’ Gate.

While we sympathize with the pressures under which police have been forced to work after two of their colleagues were shot to death by terrorists on July 14, nothing justifies lashing out at journalists trying to do their job. A free press is the lifeblood of democracy. With relative quiet restored, Jerusalem police should now do some soul searching.

No coherent explanation has been given by the police for the way journalists have been treated.

First, it was claimed that the very presence of journalists near the Muslims who congregated to protest the use of metal detectors causes unrest and undermines the security situation. Then, on Thursday, Halevy said during a press conference that the restrictions were in place for the journalists’ own good to protect them from danger.

What seems more likely is that police officers view journalists, at best, as a nuisance and, at worst, as a “fifth column” who expose inconvenient facts about police behavior or generate slanted news items that present Israel in a bad light.

Police attacks on journalists cannot be seen in isolation from derogatory statements made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other members of the Likud against the news media. These statements are often calculated to appeal to public opinion on the Right, which tends to be critical of the press.

There is good reason to be critical of news outlets that intentionally present Israel in a negative light or fail to contextualize stories in an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state. However, it is not the job of the police to ensure that news coverage of Israel is fair.

Attempts to use force to prevent individuals considered by police to be enemies of Israel ultimately backfire.

These incidents end up being documented and go viral on social media, erroneously presenting Israel as a police state that stifles free press.

In an age of Internet, every cellphone becomes a source of raw news. If police ban coverage by professionals like the Post’s Sellem, they allow private individuals, often Palestinians taking part in the rioting, to control media coverage.

The only way to fight negative news media coverage is to ensure that a broad spectrum of news outlets is given access to what is going on, whether it be in Jerusalem or elsewhere. Allowing diverse perspectives to be articulated in a free and open atmosphere lies at the heart of democracy. The discerning intellects of the public – not the police – will decide for themselves which “narrative” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to accept.
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