By Stephen Lendman
Adalah is the legal center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel advocating on their behalf in a nation affording rights only to Jews. In September 2009, its report titled "Prohibited Protest" exposed how Israel’s law enforcement authorities restricted free expression protests against Operation Cast Lead.
It shows how police, the State Prosecutor’s Office, General Security Services (GSS or Shabak), the courts, and even academic institutions used or supported arrests and imprisonments to stop Israeli Arabs and supportive Jews from protesting against the war.
Researchers collected data from the police spokesman, political and social activist testimonies, Adalah legal complaints during and after the war, an analysis of court decisions on detainee arrests, and general information reported by the media and various other Israeli human rights organizations.
Israel’s law enforcement apparatus acted repressively, "far beyond any reasonable criterion." For example, on December 30, 2008, after 200 Arab demonstrator arrests, the commanding officer of the Northern District of the Police, Maj. Gen. Shimon Koren, declared that while protests could take place, police would show zero tolerance for law breakers.
Yet wherever peaceful ones occurred, authorities reacted harshly with violence and arrests to keep nonviolent resistance from spreading. This time against war. Earlier against both Intifadas, and always on Nakba Day, Land Day, against the Separation Wall and home demolitions, and other legitimate demonstrations of dissent.
The toll during and after Operation Cast Lead was high, disturbing, and disproportionate:
— 832 detentions;
— one-third of them minors under 18;
— 80% kept in custody until after their proceedings were completed, including for 54% of minors;
— 73% of indicted adults were held until completion of their proceedings, including for 86% of indicted minors;
— all Northern District detainees were kept in custody through the completion of their proceedings;
— 94% of Jerusalem district detainees were treated the same way;
— not one Jewish Tel Aviv district detainee was held through completion of their proceedings; and
— most indictments were for participating in prohibited gatherings, disturbing the peace and attacking a police officer; a few others were for risking human life on a traffic route. In all cases, charges were bogus.
The Right of Free Expression
Free expression in all forms is a fundamental democratic freedom without which all others are at risk. It includes free speech, a free press, freedom of thought, culture, and intellectual inquiry, and the right to challenge government authority peacefully, especially in times of war and cases of injustice, lawlessness, official incompetence, and abusive government behavior.
Israel has no constitution and no specific laws guaranteeing equality or free expression. Yet its Basic Laws protect human dignity and liberty as fundamental values in "a Jewish and democratic state" and more, including:
— "no violation of the life, body or dignity of any person;"
— their property;
— no restricting their liberty by imprisonment, arrest, extradition or otherwise;
— the right to privacy; and
— much more, including a traditionally mostly free and open media within limits.
For the most part, they’re free to report accurately on events and provide a broad range of views, independent of official policies. Haaretz writers Amira Hass and Gideon Levy do it gallantly. Some others occasionally, and overall the paper, and some others, deliver content never found in the mainstream US press or sources like the BBC, notorious for its pro-Israeli bias and sweeping pseudo-journalism in service to the UK government that owns it.
However, openness has limits, and Israel always had state censorship laws blocking national security related information from being publicly aired. Pre-1948 under British Mandate law, all publications needed military censor clearance to print. Thereafter under an IDF-press agreement, censorship applied only to security-related issues.
In 1989, Israel’s High Court imposed limits by restricting censorship to circumstances under which "there is near certainty of actual harm to security (and no) other alternative means (exists) to prevent the risk without avoiding damaging freedom of expression," according to Justice Aharon Barak. He also wrote that "it is appropriate to open the door to an open exchange of views on security matters (so the press can) be free to serve as a forum for the exchange of views and criticism regarding essential issues for society in general and for the individual."
Israel often falls short, especially in times of conflict, and egregiously during Operation Cast Lead and its aftermath. So flagrantly that it got the pro-Zionist, pro-corporate, pro-imperial Freedom House initially to drop the country from Free to Partly Free status in its 2009 global rankings, stating:
"Restrictions on journalists and official attempts to influence coverage during the Gaza conflict led to Israel’s Partly Free status."
Afterwards, it quietly and dishonestly reversed it to Free, apparently thinking no one would notice, but they did in reports by Agence France Presse, Foreign Policy magazine, the Jerusalem Post and elsewhere.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also dropped Israel to 93rd out of 175 countries in its 2009 international press freedom index behind Kuwait, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. On November 9, 2009, Haaretz duly noticed by headlining, "Israel ranks low for freedom of press, after Gaza media ban" in reporting RSF’s 47 spot downgrade from the previous year.
Israeli Media Coverage of Operation Cast Lead
As a conduit for government propaganda, Israeli media glorified the conflict, dehumanized Palestinians, downplayed their suffering, ignored the overwhelming carnage and devastation, and the IDF’s crimes of war and against humanity. At the same time, they highlighted the few Israeli casualties and portrayed Arab Israelis as a fifth column security threat over their opposition to the war.
According to I’lam: Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel:
The Israeli media focused "on military prowess, military successes and the uncritical self satisfaction at having conducted a ‘surprise’ attack on the Hamas enemy. Rather than covering the human cost of war or questioning the legitimacy of striking densely populated civilian areas, (they) chose to praise the military’s operations and its stated objectives were taken as fact. (They violated their) role as the fourth estate, that of keeping government power in check and reinforcing ethical and humanistic values in (their) work."
Journalists who reported accurately, or tried to, were intimidated, denied free access, and in some cases attacked and arrested. I’lam reported that on December 29, 2008, Israeli police assaulted and arrested two Palestinian journalists:
— Jamal Amara, Editor of the online news website Radar; and
— Raed Dellasheh, reporter for the Fasl al-Maqal newspaper and the online news site arabs48 – in his case so severely he was hospitalized.
They were both accosted while covering an anti-war demonstration in Kufr Kanna, an Arab Israeli town, then forced to sign a document stating they wouldn’t return there for the rest of the war.
Also on December 29, photojournalist Saja Kilani was filming an anti-war demonstration at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University when a settler approached, tried but failed to seize her camera, while police stood aside and did nothing. Three days later she was arrested on bogus charges of attacking a settler.
Israel’s award-winning journalist, Amira Hass, was also arrested earlier on returning to Gaza where she lived and reported. On December 12, 2008, Haaretz reported that "Sderot police (arrested her) last night for having entered the Gaza Strip (by sea) without a permit. By order of the army, Israeli journalists have been barred from entering Gaza" since mid-2006.
In May 2009, Hass was again arrested after leaving Gaza on charges of residing in an enemy state. She was released on bail after promising not to return for the next 30 days. She’s the only Israeli journalist who’s been there since the 2006 ban and one of the few reporting accurately in defiance of media censorship.
On January 6, 2009, Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner advocacy group, announced two other arrests for "infringing new legal measures" restricting reporting on the war:
— Khader Shahin in Jerusalem, Palestinian correspondent for Al Alam TV, on charges of spreading "state secrets" and "breaching the media code of ethics;" and
— Mohammad Sarhan, a Jerusalem-based student studying law at Ramat Gan College; he was accused of reporting on Israel’s ground assault before the IDF released the news, breaching the same "code of ethics" by telling uncomfortable truths Israel wanted suppressed.
Foreign journalists were also denied access to Gaza after the Defense Ministry closed the Strip entirely to the press, then compromised when the Foreign Press Association petitioned the High Court of Justice to intervene. According to Haaretz:
"the parties agreed that a limited team of eight journalists would be allowed into Gaza when the Erez crossing opened….to send in humanitarian aid. However, sources in the Foreign Press Association say that since the decision, the crossing has not opened," so Israel’s obstructionism continued hoping it could complete its ritual slaughter unobserved by the outside world. It didn’t as later investigative reports revealed the truth, followed by world outrage demanding accountability, not so far gotten.
The Israeli Prosecutor’s Office and the Police
Both bodies called all protest actions an existential state security threat, cracking down accordingly and prevailing in all cases not to release those detained. In addition, new grounds for arrests were given, including disturbing the peace and saying "the protests (were) detrimental to public morale."
The courts acted complicitly by abandoning the principle of individual examination, agreeing to the wholesale arrest of suspects, and claiming these were "offenses specific to the times." In addition, minors were treated the same as adults, and some judges openly supported the war.
For example, in the Nazareth Magistrates Court, two decisions affecting four suspects were completely identical, word for word, showing justice there was a travesty.
Demonstrators Attest to Police Violence
Despite protesting peacefully, they were arrested solely because of their presence to create panic and deter others from similar efforts.
Wherever protests were held, police dispersed them forcefully, on the pretext that they were participating in a forbidden gathering. In fact, none of them required a permit because they’re not required under Israeli law. Police nonetheless demanded them, then assaulted demonstrators on grounds of "rioting and disturbing the peace." Arrests and injuries resulted. Instead of maintaining order and ensuring free expression, police used force and violence to silence protests and keep them from inspiring others.
Shabak Harassment and Surveillance
Israel’s internal security service (also known as Shin Bet) participated by investigating dozens of political activists who participated. They were interrogated and threatened with prosecution if they didn’t cease and desist. The Attorney General backed the action, saying it was necessary to calm the situation because Israel was at war.
Academic Support for the War and Repressing Free Expression
Most academics supported the war while others were silent. Disgracefully, institutions like Haifa University installed signs above buildings and advertised in the press, expressing pride in the military operation. School authorities also let police on campus to violently disperse Arab student protests, make arrests, stay silent throughout the whole process, then discipline students for their unseemly conduct and participation in unapproved public activity.
Violating the Right of Free Expression
Free expression and the right to peacefully assemble and protest aren’t just fundamental human rights. They’re essential in times of war to dissent against lawlessness as a way to curtail it. For political activists, silence is unconscionable and a profound violation of their principled support for justice – something Israeli authorities don’t allow Palestinians, Israeli Arabs or even dissenting Jews.
Prohibiting Israeli Arabs from "Enemy Alien" Contacts
Israeli authorities restrict social and cultural contacts its Arab citizens have with much of the Arab world, designated "enemy aliens."
Kol Bo Books owner Saleh Abbasi is an Israeli citizen and one of the largest book importers in Israel’s Arab community for the past 30 years. Importing books from Egypt and Jordan, two Israeli allies, they cover children’s literature, classical and modern Arab literature, translated world literature, professional works, dictionaries, encyclopedias and other works.
Most come from Lebanon and Syria and are required by Israeli Arabs. Yet, in August 2008, Abbasi received a letter from Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor saying his license to import books from both countries would be terminated because it constitutes "trading with the enemy" under the 1939 Trade with the Enemy Ordinance.
Adalah petitioned the Israeli High Court on his behalf to declare this ordinance invalid for these type books. State prosecutors claimed otherwise, then announced an exception for Kol Bo Books subject to annual renewals. Petitioners argued that the ordinance constitutes an extreme, sweeping and severe measure, threatening Israeli Arabs with criminal sanctions for importing, using, or conducting commerce in basic items like textbooks and educational ones from Arab countries.
On October 1, 2009, the Court ruled that granting Kol Bo Books an import license mooted the petition, saying it found no reason to address its questions and that petitioners could again request legal redress if the need arose.
This is another example of how Israel denies its Arab citizens the right to develop ties with other regional states, to conduct legal commerce, and to maintain contact with friends and family abroad, many of whom are refugees unable to return home.
In addition, Palestinian writers and academics want to compete in literary competitions in cultural capitals like Beirut, Damascus and elsewhere. Religious and political officials visit these states, and Israeli Arabs and Jews want to import a range of goods exclusively produced there.
Israeli prohibitions are harsh, illegitimate, and applied only to harass. The best known is the 2003 Citizenship and Entry to Israel Law (Emergency Order), prohibiting citizens from marrying and living with their spouses in Israel if they reside in an "enemy state."
During both world wars, similar measures were used as a defense against security threats. Since 1962, America used it against Cuba, embargoing country for half a century. Until 1998, it included all types of goods, including books, films and music. Following years of complaints, permission was granted to import them.
Few countries now embargo Cuba, except for limited applications related to security issues. In addition, international law lets national minorities maintain contact with their own people in other countries.
Most importantly, under Article 2(5) of the 1992 UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, persons belonging to minorities are entitled to maintain contact with members of their group abroad without discrimination.
Israel violated the Declaration by bogusly declaring Arab nations "enemy states," a label applied solely to them. Yet until 1948, they comprised an "integral part of the national, social, political, cultural, religious, historical and linguistic experience of the Palestinians," who under Israeli rule became a discriminated minority, even though they’re citizens entitled to equal rights. They’re not and can’t have legitimate relations with others outside Israel or in the Territories.
Israel claims it’s "to prevent direct or indirect economic assistance to the enemy by an enemy state," ignoring the grave injustice to a sizable minority because of their religion and ethnicity.
No legal or ethical basis justifies this action. It’s collective punishment and a violation of Israeli Arab legal and collective rights. It’s also another example of Israel’s ongoing discrimination against its own citizens, a policy no democratic state should tolerate. But believing Israel is a democracy is illusory, a topic a forthcoming article addresses.
– Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.