Monday, July 14, 2008

The Whole World Watching? CUT!!!: Blocking Journalists and Filmmakers from Palestine

A couple of recent petitions highlight the means by which the Government of Israel is impeding the outside world from seeing the realities inside the Palestinian Occupied Territories. In recent months, GOI has denied access to some international filmmakers from filming or showing films in the West Bank. In addition, the treatment by Shin Bet and the IDF of an award-winning journalist upon his return to the Occupied Territories has highlighted many other abuses suffered by journalists in recent years.

Since 2000, GOI has intensified its policy of excluding Palestinians who have left the Occupied Territories, even for short periods of time, from returning to their houses and homeland, a practice that Right To Enter calls "Silent Transfer":

Israel has recently intensified its practices regarding restriction of entry or re-entry to the oPt with respect to residents of and visitors to the OPT (Gaza Strip and West Bank) who do not hold a Palestinian ID issued by the Israeli Ministry of Interior. A Palestinian ID is a personal identification document issued by Israel for Palestinian residents and their children.

Israel is now systematically denying entry or return to the oPt via the international Israeli borders at Ben Gurion Airport, Allenby Bridge, Sheikh Hussein Bridge, and Eilat. Most of those affected are Palestinian natives, spouses, children, parents and other close relatives of Palestinian ID holders. The policy affects entire families or individual members of families, like the father or the mother of minor children. As a result, families are torn apart, jobs or businesses lost and personal property becomes inaccessible.

The practice applies to people with and without Palestinian or Arab origins, and to those with and without local family relations. In addition to families, effected groups include professionals and academics who are in the oPt for teaching, research, the arts, business, visiting or volunteering their services. Most of these individuals have never overstayed their visitor's visas or breached any visiting regulations. It must be noted that Israel has reserved for itself the exclusive power of civil registration and issuing IDs for Palestinians, visitors' visas and work permits for non-ID holders to the oPt. By these means it is conducting a swift and effective 'silent transfer' of the Palestinian population while the latter is living at the mercy of the Israeli occupation authorities. In addition to the people already locked out, there are many more still in the oPt and at risk of deportation or re-entry denial once they exit the country's international borders to comply with Israeli visa regulations.

A recent petition highlights the problems of filmmakers in accessing the Occupied Territories. An Italian filmmaker has been prevented from showing films in the West Bank. A Palestinian-French filmmaker has been prevented from shooting a feature film in Jerusalem as well as visiting her ailing, elderly mother in the West Bank. A third woman,

Palestinian-American filmmaker, Annemarie Jacir, traveling to the West Bank for the world premiere of her feature film "Salt of the Sea," was also denied entry at Allenby. Jacir's film, is slated for the Cannes Film Festival 2008 as an Official Selection,
The film was to be screened in al-Ama'ri refugee camp at the invitation of the French Consulate in Jerusalem, which supported production of the film, and the International Art Academy in Ramallah, which was co-sponsoring the screening. Jacir has been barred from entering the OPT for the past 9 months. As a result, shooting for one of the main scenes of the film had to be relocated to Marseilles, France. Jacir was held at Allenby Bridge for 6 hours and repeatedly interrogated before she was escorted by two of the agents out of the terminal and onto a bus back to Jordan. Jacir was informed that the Israeli Ministry of Interior had denied her entry
because "you spend too much time here."

On June 26, Mohammad Omer was returning to the Occupied Territories after having received the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, when he was brutally interrogated by Shin Bet at the Allenby crossing into the West Bank. In response to this cruelty, WRMEA, has circulated a petition stating:

We call on the Israeli government to end its harassment of travelers and journalists. When Israel targets journalists it infringes on a basic pillar of democracy, freedom of the press. Human beings, even those ruled for decades by an occupying power, have the right to leave home and return safely, without interference, and the right to freedom of speech.

Unfortunately, what happened to Omer was not an isolated incident.

The government prefers stories to be filed from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, where they are subject to censorship, and allows few, if any, international journalists to enter the West Bank and Gaza. Israel censors, harasses and even kills Palestinian journalists who are trying to report on conditions in the occupied territories.
At least eight journalists have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza since 2001, seven of them in attacks by Israel Defense Forces, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists research.*

*These include:

- Fadel Shana, a Reuters cameraman, was killed, and soundman Wafa Abu Mizyed was wounded, on April 16, 2008 in the Gaza Strip after they stopped their car, bearing the markings “TV” and “Press,” to film Israeli military forces several hundred meters away. Shana was filming an Israeli tank when it fired on the men.
- Imad Ghanem, a cameraman for the Hamas-affiliated satellite channel Al-Aqsa, was killed by shells fired from Israeli tanks in July 2007 in the Gaza Strip as he was filming paramedics transferring victims of an Israeli tank attack.
- Mohamed Abu Halima, a student correspondent for university-affiliated Al-Najah radio station, was killed on March 22, 2004 while reporting on Israeli troop activity at the entrance to the Balata refugee camp, outside the West Bank city of Nablus.
- Nazih Darwazeh a cameraman for Associated Press Television News, was killed by Israeli forces in Nablus on April 19, 2003 while filming clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli troops. Darwazeh was wearing a fluorescent jacket marked “Press,” and he and other journalists shouted loudly to Israeli troops in both English and Hebrew indicating that they were with the media before the shooting.
- James Miller, a British free-lance cameraman and award-winning documentary filmmaker, was fatally shot in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on May 2, 2003. His producer Saira Shah, and translator Abdul Rahman Abdullah attempted to identify themselves to the Israeli troops in the area while they were leaving. The journalists were wearing jackets and helmets marked “TV,” and Abdullah was waving a white flag while Miller used a flashlight to illuminate the flag.

The citation for Omer's award reads “Every day, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. His homeland, Gaza, is surrounded, starved, attacked, forgotten. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless.” Not only Mohammad Omer's words, but his life experience give witness to the risks that thousands of Palestinians and many journalists face everyday.

Cross-posted at Booman Tribune

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