TEL AVIV (Mar. 29)
The Foreign Press Association appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court Tuesday against the Israel Defense Force’s move to close the West Bank and Gaza Strip to news media coverage for three days, which began at midnight Monday.
The FPA, backed by the Israel Journalists Association, rejected the strict conditions imposed by the IDF on media coverage in the territories for the period and demanded a swift return to normal conditions.
The IDF announced Monday the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be declared closed military zones until Friday morning. The move is aimed at minimizing violence on Wednesday, when Arabs will mark Land Day, the 12th anniversary of Palestinian protests against the confiscation of Arab lands in Galilee by the IDF.
The IDF has organized reporters into three press pools; military correspondents, foreign correspondents and Arab-affairs specialists. They will be allowed into the territories only by special permit and must be escorted by IDF officers.
The chairman of the FPA in Israel, Robert Slater of Time magazine, said the organization is demanding the return to full coverage facilities for its hundreds of members reporting from Israel.
“We hope for a very speedy hearing (by the Supreme Court) and a very quick decision,” Slater said. He expressed concern that the restrictions “will continue much longer than the three days, and we want to do what we can immediately to return to the situation where we could go into the territories, even though it wasn’t everything that we wanted,” the Time correspondent said.
BAN MIGHT BE EXTENDED
His concerns are not entirely groundless. Gen. Dan Shomron, the IDF chief of staff, said Tuesday that the closure of the territories might be extended beyond the three days if conditions warranted.
Other military sources confirmed that the closure was a test. If it works, the press may be barred from the territories even after the Land Day crisis passes, they said.
Premier Yitzhak Shamir told reporters in Ramla Tuesday that the closure was a temporary measure and that if it succeeds in preventing violence, it would be a welcome one. He noted that many democratic countries sometimes closed off specific areas to media coverage for brief periods.
But Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said that “at the moment,” the closure would last three days, indicating it could be extended.
The IDF spokesman’s office said Tuesday it will issue regular reports of events in the territories. But many FPA members want to check those reports through independent observations.
The closure of the territories to the news media was the subject of heated debate in the Knesset Tuesday. Gabi Yatziv of the leftist Mapam Party called it counterproductive and a “clear victory” for the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“I think it is the first meaningful victory for the uprising, because they force us to act in a way which we wouldn’t have done otherwise. It’s not only a question of democracy, but also of wisdom — or rather a question of stupidity,” Yatziv said.
He predicted that news reports will be written and pictures taken despite the ban “and the message will be disastrous.”
But Geula Cohen of the right-wing Tehiya Party welcomed the IDF’s measures. She maintained the territories should have been closed to the media long ago.
“It’s not a matter of freedom of the press, it’s a matter of freedom of the terrorists to take advantage of the media for their own purposes,” Cohen said.