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Human Rights in Israel
Flag of Israel Israel
Population: 6,199,008 (July 2004 est.)
Capital: Jerusalem
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Israel Human Rights Report
» intro | 1a | 1b | 1c | 1d | 1e | 1f | 2a | 2b | 2c | 2d | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6a | 6b | 6c | 6d | 6e | 6f

Freedom of Speech and Press

The cumulative rulings of the Supreme Court provide for freedom of speech. The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance of 1948 prohibits persons from expressing support for illegal organizations. On occasion, the Government prosecuted persons for allegedly speaking or writing on behalf of terrorist groups.

All newspapers were privately owned and managed. Newspaper licenses were valid only for Israel; separate licenses were required to distribute publications in areas in the occupied territories still under the Government's authority. There were 12 daily newspapers, 90 weekly newspapers, more than 250 periodical publications, and 8 Internet news sites.

Directed by a government appointee, the quasi-independent Israel Broadcast Authority controlled television Channel 1 and Kol Israel (Voice of Israel) radio, both major sources of news and information. There were two privately owned commercial television channels. The Second Television and Radio Authority, a public body that also supervised 14 private radio stations, supervises both channels. There were five cable television companies that carried both domestic and international networks and produced shows specifically for the Israeli audience.

In 2001, the Attorney General announced that he would file an indictment against Knesset Member Azmi Bishara for making statements perceived by some as supportive of Hizballah during Bishara's June visit to Syria (a country still in a state of war with Israel) and during a 2000 visit to the Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm. In November 2001, the Knesset voted to lift Bishara's immunity so that he could face prosecution. In November, the Nazareth Magistrate Court decided in a preliminary hearing to uphold the charges against Bishara. At year's end, the case was still pending.

The law prohibits hate speech and incitement to violence and individuals, groups, and the press freely addressed public issues and criticized government policies and officials without reprisal. In the past, the Government has investigated a significantly higher number of Arab Members of the Knesset (MKs) than Jewish MKs for the use of hate speech and incitement to violence; however, during the year, there were no reports that the Government investigated any Arab or Jewish MK.

In November, a three-member Supreme Court panel unanimously ruled that the Film Censorship Board's decision to prohibit the screening of the film "Jenin, Jenin" violated freedom of speech. The film depicts fighting in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin during April 2002. In response to an appeal by the Attorney General, the State Prosecutor, soldiers who fought in Jenin, and families of soldiers who died there, the Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction in December barring the screening of the controversial film until the court decided whether to rehear the case before an expanded panel. Critics claimed that the film contains lies about the events and incites violence against Israel.

The law provides for freedom of the press, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The law authorizes the Government to censor any material reported from Israel or the occupied territories that it regards as sensitive on national security grounds. Foreign correspondents and news agencies complained of harassment by the Government Press Office (GPO), which falls under the Prime Minister's office. Specifically, foreign agencies complained that their Palestinian employees, whom the agencies claimed were necessary for adequate coverage of events in the territories, were denied press cards (and thereby unable to travel unhindered in the occupied territories) for no valid reason. Since January 2002, the Government has denied press credentials to all Palestinians, based on security grounds. Press credentials were not required in Israel or the occupied territories; however, they were important to facilitate access to official events. As a general rule, Israeli journalists/technicians cover the occupied territories only under IDF protection.

Foreign and domestic media harshly criticized the GPO's proposed eligibility rules for Israeli and foreign journalists as a Government attempt to control the press. The new eligibility rules published in November would have required Israeli and foreign journalists to fill out a 25-page application as well as to a pay a fee. The GPO would provide copies of the applications to the ISA for security checks while the GPO examined them. The GPO indicated that it could revoke passes already granted if the ISA found unspecified derogatory information. In the past, only Palestinian journalists were subject to a vetting process by the ISA. After meeting with press representatives, the GPO rescinded the controversial rules.

The security forces detained without charge several foreign media employees. On April 24, security forces arrested without charge Agence France-Presse photographer Hossam Abu Alan, and on April 30, Reuters cameraman Yusri Al Jamal. Both were released 6 months later without charge. Abu Alan's equipment was confiscated and never returned. Security forces also detained without charge other Palestinians working for foreign agencies. Most were released shortly thereafter. None were charged and they were told only that their detention was based on their alleged assistance to terrorist organizations.

In 2002, the Ministry of Interior closed an Israeli-Arab newspaper, Sawt al-Haqq Wal-Hurriya. The newspaper was affiliated with the northern branch of the Islamic movement in the country and had previously published articles the Government believed supported terrorism. The newspaper has since been allowed to open and continued to publish regularly during the year. A censorship agreement between the Government and media representatives, and applicable to all media organizations in the country, provided that military censorship was to be applied only in cases involving national security issues that had a near certainty of harming the country's defense interests. All media organizations may appeal the censor's decision to the High Court of Justice. Moreover, a clause prohibits the military censor from closing a newspaper for censorship violations and from appealing a court judgment against it. News previously printed or broadcast abroad may be reported in Israel without the censor's review, which permits the media to run previously censored stories that have appeared in foreign sources.

During the year, journalists and professional journalist groups claimed that the Government placed limitations on their freedom of movement within the occupied territories, between the West Bank and Gaza, and between the occupied territories and Israel during violent unrest. The Government and security forces have stated that they did not target journalists due to their profession; however, three journalists were killed, and at least five were injured while covering events in the occupied territories during the year (see Section 2.a. of the annex).

The GPO, on security grounds, required foreign journalists to sign an agreement stating that they would submit to the military censor certain news stories and photographs; however, they rarely were challenged for not doing so. In practice, foreign and Israeli journalists sometimes submitted articles and photographs for military censorship; however, the requirement was not systematically followed or enforced, live broadcasts precluded such submission. The military censor decides whether a violation has occurred after the fact. In December, two major Israeli papers were fined for failing to submit material to the censor.

The Government generally respected academic freedom; however, the Government continued to interfere with the education of Israeli-Arab students because a member of the ISA monitored and approved the appointment of teachers and administrators in Arab schools.

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