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Monday, August 08, 2005

 

Democracies Don't Act This Way

Israel Bars Palestinian Journalists From Travel

August 7, 2005

By Khalid Amayreh *

Israel incessantly claims that she is the only true democracy in the Middle East. The Jewish state often uses this claim, which is half-true at best, to blur her systematic violations of Palestinian civil and human rights.

Two weeks ago, while I was on my way to Jordan and South Africa to conduct some interviews with officials in both countries, the Israeli security authorities told me rather unceremoniously that I couldn't travel.

At the Allenby Bridge border crossing, an Israeli security officer told me, after examining my Palestinian passport, that I should return back to my home in Hebron.

"You are black-listed," he told me in a dismissive and indifferent tone.

When I sought to protest the draconian and unexpected measure, the officer said tersely "you know, for security reasons."

I am a professional Palestinian journalist. I have a BA degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a Master Degree in the same field from the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale.

I work for a number of English language media outlets, including al-Jazeera.net/English and the Egyptian newspaper, al Ahram Weekly. My articles and dispatches are published around the world. There is nothing secretive or suspicious about who I am and what I do.

I have never been arrested by the Israeli occupation authorities and never been accused of any wrong doing. Yes, I don't hesitated to call the spade a spade, but this is part of being a journalist. Needless to say, a journalist who can't call the spade a spade, should probably seek another job.

More to the point, I consistently supported a political settlement of the Palestinian plight based on international law and human rights. I also openly condemned on several occasions all violent acts targeting Palestinian and Israeli civilians.

Non the less, it is amply clear that Israel continues to classify Palestinians into two categories, either terrorists who ought to be annihilated or severely punished, who also apparently include critics of the occupation and its many diabolic practices; and collaborators and quislings who only deserve a dog treatment.

There is nothing in between. A Palestinian, like me, who, while repudiating violence against civilians, insists on his people's freedom and human rights, is viewed as a "dangerous man." In other words, a terrorist.

There is no other explanation for Israel's draconian measures against me and my Palestinian colleagues who are only communicating to the outside world, as objectively as a human can be, and as honestly as possible, events in this tormented region.

One Israeli officer at the "travelers' hall" mentioned the word "al-Jazeera" as if working for aljazeera was a grand crime.

Earlier, a number of Israeli official media spokesmen voiced their displeasure at al-Jazeera.net's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This was followed eventually by a change of behavior by Israeli spokespersons who wouldn't return telephone calls from me and my Gaza colleague Leila El-Haddad.

Leila, a Harvard graduate and mother of a six-month child, is also barred from traveling to Israel proper and the West Bank.

Again, the security mantra is always ready to justify the ban.

However, I do suspect that the real purpose of these flagrant and unjustified punitive measures against me and Leila is to impose immobility on us in order to undermine our journalistic performance.

We are journalists, not politicians. We don't create events, we only report on them.

In any democratic country, when a state has certain grudges or serious charges against an individual, the courts settle any dispute.

Here in Israel, things are entirely different. The Shin Beth is the accuser and the judge and the usually Palestinian victim, whether a journalist or an ordinary citizen, is supposed to chew his suffering and bitterness quietly. I refuse to do so, and I won't accept this disgraceful treatment for I am not a child of a lesser God.

I have been told that I would have to pay the minimum of $2000 US dollars to an influential Israeli lawyer in order to be allowed to travel only for one time.

If true, then I would have to sacrifice twice my monthly income to rapacious Israeli lawyers just to be able to travel outside the West Bank.

This flagrant treatment of Palestinian journalists is unjust and unacceptable to say the least. And it must stop.

If Israel has any genuine accusations or charges against us, let them face us before a court of law, and we will accept the consequences.


But if they lack any evidence incriminating us, as they obviously do, they should grant us our natural rights to travel freely inside and outside our country, for there is no law under the sun restricting the movement of journalists just because the government doesn’t like what they write.

I realize that we are a people under occupation and that the occupation is actually an act of rape. I know this fact too well, first as Palestinian citizen and second as a journalist.

However, I can't understand how Israel's security is served by barring Palestinian journalists from carrying out their jobs?

And a word to our Israeli colleagues. I believe you must speak up against the punitive and humiliating restrictions being imposed by your government on Palestinian journalists.

You are readily allowed freedom of movement throughout the West Bank and to Jordan and Egypt as well. I am not against this freedom. I only demand that the same freedom is granted to your Palestinian colleagues. We are not children of a lesser God, after all.

Finally, I would like to address journalists around the world. Israel is tormenting Palestinian journalists and restricting their freedom of movement because it doesn't like what they write. This is a serious and scandalous violation of press freedom and human rights.

I believe it is your duty as journalists to speak up against this act of rape by a state that claims ad nauseam that it is the only democracy in the Middle East.

Democracies just don't act this way.


* Palestinian journalist based in the West Bank city of Hebron.

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