January 6, 2009
Minister of Defense
37 Kaplan Street
Via facsimile: 972-3-691-6940
Dear Minister Barak,
The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on you to explain
why you have imposed blanket restrictions on international media entering the
Gaza Strip and certain areas inside Israel
along the Gaza
prides itself on being an open society with a free and vibrant press. Yet by
preventing journalists from covering its military offensive in Gaza, Israel
is betraying its own democratic principles. It is also denying the world access
to fact-based reporting. News organizations whose reporters are camped outside Gaza looking in have few
reliable ways of quickly checking claims by either side.
Hundreds of journalists have arrived in Israel since the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)
began their campaign on December 27 aimed at halting rocket fire from Gaza. Authorities say
these and the 900 or so other media personnel already in Israel working for international
news outlets cannot cross into Gaza for safety reasons. Israel has barred its own citizens from entering
Gaza for the
past two years, citing security fears. But the ban on international journalists
is less than two months old and had been enforced sporadically until the latest
The Foreign Press Association in Israel
appealed the ban to the Supreme Court, which last week suggested a compromise that
would allow a small group of international journalists to file pool reports
from Gaza. The
IDF agreed to allow eight journalists in through the Erez crossing in northern Gaza but scrapped the plan on Monday, supposedly for
security reasons, even as relief workers and others were admitted into Gaza. Although crossings
have been opened more than once since the Israeli offensive on Gaza started, no journalists have been
allowed to enter.
Danny Seaman, the director of the Government Press Office,
was quoted on Monday as saying that the opening of the Erez checkpoint would endanger
staff at the terminal, which has been attacked by Hamas militants in the past.
He went on, however, to say that the absence of international journalists was
good for Israel, because
Hamas militants fabricate coverage to make Israel look bad, according to The
"And they get away with it because of the unprofessional
cooperation of the foreign press, which takes questionable reports at face
value without checking," Seaman added. Today, he was quoted in The New York
Times as saying that "any journalist who enters Gaza becomes a fig leaf and front for the
Hamas terror organization, and I see no reason why we should help that."
has a long history of allowing international journalists to cover conflict. Why
is it now restricting all access to a conflict zone? What is the legal basis
for this restriction on the free movement of journalists?
While all sovereign states retain the right to deny
journalists access to certain areas, basic rules of international law dictate
that states are obliged to do so sparingly and for legitimate and specific
States may exclude journalists only when they can
demonstrate that the mere presence of journalists poses a clear risk to the
lives of others. Restriction of all access to an entire conflict zone for
unspecified safety reasons simply cannot suffice.
Our colleagues in the Foreign Press Association in Israel want to
cover the story. They are experienced reporters and know the risks involved.
The IDF should respect their judgment and lift restrictions on international
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.