- 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
- 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
- -- 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
- 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
- -- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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;
- -- 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
- 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
- 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"
- Israeli authorities restrict social and cultural contacts
its Arab citizens have with much of the Arab world, designated "enemy
- 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
- 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
- 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 lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
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