Israel indefensibly prevents dozens of Palestinian journalists from traveling as a punishment for their journalistic work or expression of their opinions, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said in a report released Monday.
Entitled “Punishing Journalists: Israel’s Restrictions on Freedom of Movement,” the report documented cases in which the Israeli intelligence service and the Israeli General Security Service (Shin Bet) extorted Palestinian journalists over their right to travel and movement.
Several journalists told Euro-Med Monitor that Israeli officers notified them that the travel ban against them could only be removed if they report security information about Palestinians to the Israeli intelligence or work for Israel.
Others said that Israeli officers promised to allow them to travel if they gave up their journalistic work or stopped working for certain media outlets. Had the journalists refused the offer, they would have been subjected to physical and psychological attacks, including beatings, detentions, home break-ins, and threats of continuous prosecution, they said.
Journalist Radi Karama, 32, from Hebron in the southern West Bank, told Euro-Med Monitor: “I was interrogated by an Israeli officer who introduced himself as the one responsible for the travel ban. We talked about the details of the travel ban. He presented me with several proposals, all centered on working with the Israeli security in exchange for removing the ban.
He offered me a monthly salary of $3,000 in return for working with him, but I categorically refused that… [after that] I was surprised that a large group of the Israeli army stormed my house. I was arrested and taken to the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron. That night was the worst in my life […] He [the officer] told me that the removal of the travel ban is conditional on working with him.”
In addition to research, the report is based on dozens of interviews Euro-Med Monitor’s team conducted with Palestinian journalists who are banned from traveling in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.
The journalists said that travel bans come in administrative decisions issued by the Israeli authorities, including the intelligence service, without following legal or judicial procedures nor informing the journalists at the time of their issuance. Journalists are also not informed of the authority that issued the decision, the reasons behind it, or how to remove or object to the decision.
Most journalists learn of the ban in one of five ways: when applying for a travel permit, while at the crossing, by the Civil Administration, when returning from abroad, or in a Shin Bet interview.
Nour Olwan, Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief Media Officer, said: “For decades, the Israeli authorities have been tightening the grip on journalists in the Palestinian territories, by direct targeting, arrests, intimidation, damage to equipment, and more.”
“In recent years, another undisclosed form of abuse against them has escalated. An increasing number of journalists have begun to find themselves banned from traveling without justification or explanation, apparently to punish them for their work,” she said.
“The Israeli authorities’ pursuit of such arbitrary policies against Palestinian journalists to silence them is a setback for freedoms of expression and journalistic work in the Palestinian territories,” she added.
In some cases, the Israeli authorities do not inform journalists or their lawyers of the reasons for the ban. In other cases, they are told that the reason is in a “secret file.”
In the cases where they are informed of the reasons, journalists are usually charged with posing a threat to regional security, incitement through the media, or belonging to or working for banned parties.
The report pointed out that in cases of extreme necessity, international law allows limited restrictions on freedom of movement, provided that these restrictions are proportionate and do not entail discriminatory measures or result in other violations that affect a wide range of civilians who do not pose a security threat to individuals or groups. However, most of the Israeli restrictions on Palestinians were disproportionate and discriminatory.
Olwan said that Israel is obligated to grant Palestinian journalists their right of movement inside and outside the Palestinian territories without hindrance or restrictions under international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in addition to the Oslo Accords that Israel signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1995, which guaranteed the Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement and travel.
The Israeli authorities should abide by their responsibilities as the occupying power; remove travel bans against Palestinian journalists based on their journalistic work or exercising their right to freedom of expression; and stop pursuing, arresting, and threatening journalists, and randomly interrogating them at crossings and military checkpoints because of their journalistic activity.
An investigation should be opened into the cases mentioned in the report, in which Israeli officers tried to extort Palestinian journalists over their right to travel in exchange for working with the Israeli intelligence.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor is a Geneva-based independent organization with regional offices across the MENA region and Europe