Israeli police briefly detained the Washington Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief and West Bank correspondent for alleged “incitement” on Tuesday, prompting the Foreign Press Association to decry Israel’s “heavy-handed tactics.”
The FPA said bureau chief William Booth and West Bank correspondent Sufian Taha were detained while interviewing Palestinian and Jewish residents of Jerusalem at Damascus Gate outside the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem.
Booth and Taha were interviewing high-school students under a tree when Israeli border police “waved the two journalists over and asked them for their IDs,” the FPA said in a statement.
“They presented their Government Press Office cards as identification, but these were waved away and they were asked for official identity documents.
“Although the journalists made it very clear that they were reporting a story for the Washington Post, police took them to a nearby police station, where they were held for about 40 minutes, then released.”
The FPA added that when the two journalists asked why they had been detained, “police said they had suspected the journalists of ‘inciting’ Palestinians.”
Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld confirmed the two journalists had been taken aside and questioned by Israeli police officers before they were released.
He did not provide any further details, although he said “security measures” were in place around Damascus Gate following a series of recent attacks there.
According to Israeli daily Haaretz, the Jerusalem police department said “a number of suspects” were detained when a passerby told police that young Palestinians were planning “a disturbance of the peace” in the area.
They said the detainees were released when no evidence of “criminal activity was found.”
The Washington Post’s foreign editor Douglas Jehl said in a statement: “While Booth has now been released, we regard the detention of any of our journalists anywhere as extremely troubling.”
Meanwhile, the FPA said it “protests this absurd accusation against a respected international news outlet, as well as the detention, however brief, of an accredited foreign journalist and his Palestinian colleague.”
It said the incident came “in the context of heavy-handed tactics — including violent attacks — deployed in recent months by border police against foreign journalists and their Palestinian co-workers covering the unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
“We do not think it is coincidental that a baseless accusation of ‘incitement’ was made at a time when blanket accusations of bias are being leveled against the foreign press by Israeli officials and commentators.”
Earlier this month, the FPA expressed dismay after its members were summoned to a subcommittee hearing in the Israeli parliament to account for their coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Knesset subcommittee hearing was called to discuss foreign press coverage that it said “in the long-term erodes the legitimacy of (Israel’s) fight against terrorism.”
The FPA said it disagreed with the hearing’s basic premise, which it said “presupposes two things: that the foreign media are biased and that that supposed bias undermines Israel’s ability to quell terrorist attacks.
“We do not agree that the foreign media are biased, and the legitimacy of Israel’s campaign against terrorism is entirely determined by how Israel conducts that campaign. It has nothing to do with the foreign media.”