Endangered Press Freedom in Israel
by Stephen Lendman
America and Israel both wage wars on free and open expression. Whistleblowing journalists are targeted. Threats give others pause. Bradley Manning and Julian Assange understand Washington’s wrath.
So dooes Israeli journalist Anat Kam and Haaretz’s national security reporter Uri Blau.
Originally charged with espionage, Kam last year was convicted of collecting, holding, and passing on classified information without authorization while performing mandatory military service.
She’ll spend 54 months in prison. Another year and a half sentence was suspended. Earlier she was under house arrest for two years. She gave Blau thousands of documents. They showed high-ranking IDF officers lawlessly approved targeted assassinations of wanted Palestinians.
Doing so violated a Supreme Court order. On December 14, 2006, Court President Justice Aharon Barak ruled no one should be assassinated or harmed in lieu of nonviolent workable alternatives. “In other words,” he said, “a person should not be assassinated if it is possible to arrest him, interrogate and indict him.”
No one should be assassinated for any reason. International and Israeli law prohibit it.
At the time, Israeli General Yair Naveh was quoted saying, “Don’t bother me with High Court orders.” In other words, rule of law inviolability and Supreme Court rulings don’t matter. Washington operates the same way.
Kam’s documents provided information for Blau’s December 4, 2008 Haaretz article headlined “License to Kill.”
It provided evidence that then IDF Central Command head, General Yair Naveh, and IDF Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, marked Ziad Subahi Mahmad Malaisha and Ibrahim Ahmed Abd al-Latif Abed for death.
In addition, “the most senior IDF echelons approve(d), in advance and in writing, the harming of innocent Palestinians during the course of the assassination operations.”
Exposing crimes or intent to commit them should be commended. Israel calls doing so espionage or unlawfully passing on classified material without authorization.
Bradley Manning faces 22 counts under America’s Espionage Act, as well as Articles 92 and 124 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. They include aiding the enemy. It’s a capital offense.
Prosecutors said they won’t seek the death penalty. Manning could face life in prison. He and Julian Assange received Nobel Peace Prize nominations.
Kam and Blau also are heroic. Israel targeted both for doing the right thing. Kam’s now in prison. On May 30, Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said Blau would be indicted for possession of classified IDF documents.
A State Prosecutor’s Office press release accused him of having “thousands of military and top-secret documents….”
Although accusations include the term “severe espionage,” Blau’s charges exclude it. The press release said in part:
“(T)he attorney general believes – based on the positions….of the State Prosecutor’s office, the Shin Bet security service and Israel Police – that this case is an extreme one in terms of the severity of Blau’s actions.”
He knowingly held thousands of documents and “betrayed his duty – and later his commitment before the state – to cease possession of them.”
Weinstein claimed no connection with having the documents and practicing journalism.
Haaretz said charging Blau “is unfortunate and sets a precedent in terms of its ramifications on the freedom of the press in Israel, and especially on the ability to cover the security apparatus.”
According to Meretz party chairperson, MK Zehava Gal-On:
“The attorney general has once again proved his lack of sensitivity to basic democratic principles, and with one decision, he has turned Israel into a state in which journalists stand trial for receiving classified information regarding failures in the security system.”
Kam and Blau, of course, focused on far graver matters than security system “failures.” At issue is high-level criminality. Exposing it is heroic. Prosecutors targeting whistleblowers and journalists for doing their jobs is scandalous.
In America and Israel it’s common practice. Perhaps revealing and/or discussing vital truths in both countries one day will be prohibited. Doing so violates fundamental democratic principles. It reflects police state justice.
It puts all independent journalists and others with information everyone needs to know at risk. That’s the path both countries have chosen.
Israel Press Council president, Dalia Dorner, expressed concern, saying:
“Many journalists that deal with these issues hold these kinds of documents, and this kind of a decision has a chilling effect. We hope that the authorities would consider the heavy damage that this decision has on freedom of the press. And I regret this decision.”
The Association of Israel Journalists said Weinstein’s decision “endangers freedom of the press, which is the soul of democracy.”
“In the framework of journalistic work and the special relationship between journalists and their sources in sensitive roles, a journalist is exposed to information, much of which has security implications.”
“As people who act according to ethics and the laws of the country, journalists in Israeli media publish security-related news only after gaining approval from the military censor. This is how Uri Blau acted.”
“Every investigative journalist has in their possession files that were leaked from unofficial sources. We do not know another way to reveal instances of government corruption, injustices and offenses to the public, whose perpetrators would prefer to continue uninterrupted.”
Seven leading military affairs commentators said they were disturbed about Blau’s indictment. In a joint statement, they expressed concerns, saying:
“Having reported on the defense establishment for decades, we deal daily with gathering information defined as confidential.”
“Even if Blau exceeded agreements made with him and acted improperly, or with a lack of good faith, the attorney general’s indictment….is the crossing of a red line that constitutes a dangerous precedent for press freedom in Israel.”
Others also expressed alarm about Israel’s war on press freedom. It stifles truth and reflects high-level complicity to suppress state crimes. Exposing them provides a vital service. Prosecuting journalists or anyone for doing it shows contempt for democratic values.
A Final Comment
Palestinian rights are entirely marginalized and denied. Military orders govern virtually all aspects of their lives. Security is cover for repression.
For example, Military Order No. 50 limits Palestinian information sources. It “prohibits either the bringing to the (Territories) any ‘newspaper’ or its ‘publication’ without a permit from the officer appointed by the Area Commander for the purposes of this Order.”
Military Order No. 107 bans publication of Arabic grammar, Crusades history, and Arab nationalism.
Military Order No. 101 prohibits freedom of assembly. More than 10 people gathering publicly requires advance notice with names of all participants and military permission.
Activist Bassem Tamimi challenges Israel’s lawless Separation Wall and settlements construction. In March 2011, he was arrested and indicted on five counts. They related to holding weekly Nabi Saleh village demonstrations.
Imprisoned for 13 months, he was released on bail in April. He was acquitted on three counts. They included incitement, failure to comply with a “stabilization” order, and obstruction of justice. He was convicted of organizing protests without permit permission and solicitation of stone throwing.
On May 29, he was sentenced to 30 months. He already served 13. An additional 17 months were suspended. Released, he remains on probation. Terms stipulate not participating in further demonstrations without express permission.
His expression and assembly rights are denied. Failure to comply will result in imprisonment for the remainder of his sentence.
Since December 2009, weekly Nabi Saleh demonstrations have been held. Other villages hold their own. At issue is stealing Palestinian land for settlement expansions, constructing Israel’s Separation Wall inside the Green Line, and other human rights abuses.
Tamimi is one of many Palestinians affected. So is Bil’in village Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements coordinator Abdullah Abu Rahme.
After being detained for over eight months, he was convicted in August 2010 of “organizing illegal demonstrations” and “incitement.” He and others were demonstrating for justice.
Israel denies Palestinians free expression and assembly rights. Doing so means arrests, prosecutions and imprisonment. Children young as 10 are targeted.
In December 2011, Tamimi’s wife, Nariman, said the following:
“During a time when the entire world is experiencing a wave of demonstrations and social protests, Bassem and his friends are languishing in the darkness of continuing imprisonment because, in the shadow of the occupation, there is no dignity and no freedom of expression.”
Palestinians are denied human and civil rights. Israel criminalizes praying to the wrong God. Jews challenging Israeli lawlessness also are endangered. Gulag imprisonment awaits anyone who tries.
His new book is titled “How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com
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