46 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 21,060, sq. km.
Languages: Hebrew and Arabic
Head of state: Shimon Peres, since July 2007
The Israeli authorities are capable of both best and worst practice when it comes to respect for press freedom. Despite military censorship, its press still enjoys total freedom that is unequalled in the region.
However, this record is badly tarnished by Israeli army abuses against journalists in the Palestinian Territories where Israeli security forces operate in a near arbitrary fashion. In addition, in the last two years, Israeli journalists are, because of their nationality, banned from entering the Territories. Only Amira Hass, of the newspaper Haaretz, flouts this ban.
Fadel Shanaa, a Palestinian cameraman working for the Reuters news agency was killed by firing from an Israeli army tank on 16 April 2008. The army’s investigation did not lead to any legal proceedings against the soldiers who were implicated in the shooting nor did it result in any elucidation of the circumstances of his death. Elsewhere, on 10 July 2008, Afaq TV in Nablus on the West Bank ceased broadcasting after being put under seal.
The Israeli army routinely carries out abusive arrests of Palestinian journalists moving around the Territories or returning from trips abroad. Such was the case, when Ibrahim Hamad, a sound engineer with the Palestinian news agency Ramattan, was arrested on 15 July 2008 and held in custody for six months. Four journalists and technicians from Ramattan were also arrested on 22 June 2008, at the Zaatara checkpoint near Nablus, as they were heading to the city in a vehicle bearing the marking “TV”.
During its military offensive “Cast Lead” from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, Israel banned foreign media from the Gaza Strip for “security reasons” This sealing of the territory constituted a serious press freedom violation. Six journalists were killed, two of them while working, and around 15 were wounded in the conflict. Further, at least three buildings housing media were hit by Israeli fire. Abuses committed by the Israeli army very rarely result in legal proceedings against the soldiers involved, despite international pressure. However, recent accounts given by Israeli soldiers who took part in the Gaza operation contain revelations of the use of excessive force and will perhaps lead the Israeli authorities to agree to set up an independent investigation.
A decision to close Israel’s commercial office in Doha by the authorities in Qatar prompted Israel on 4 February 2009 to retaliate against journalists working for the Qatar-based television channel al Jazeera, refusing to renew visas and accreditation for its journalists working in Israel or to grant any new ones.
Further, any links with enemy state, Syria, continue to be punished. Ata Farhat, correspondent for Syrian public television and the daily El Watan, was arrested for “espionage” at his home in the Golan on 30 July 2007 and was sentenced on 1st February 2009 to six years in prison, three years of which were suspended, and fined 6,000 dollars. Since the case was designated a “defence secret”, lawyers for Farhat and the media were forced to keep quiet about it.