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  Eroding Free Expression in Israel

SPEAKING OUT:

Eroding Free Expression in Israel

by Stephen Lendman
Monday, 31 May 2010
The Palestinian Basic Law and international standards affirm free expression and opinion. So is the freedom of movement principle. Violating them by or for Israel or any other authority is unacceptable any time, under any conditions, for any purpose.

This writer's earlier article exposed how Israel restricted free expression protests to suppress opposition to its Gaza war. It covered efforts by the police, State Prosecutor's Office, General Security Services (GSS), the courts, and academic institutions to support arrests and imprisonments of Israeli Arabs and Jewish protestors, to keep nonviolent resistance from spreading.

A mid-April article stayed on the theme in discussing state persecution of Israeli journalists, Anat Kam and Uri Blau.

On April 28, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) covered more recent abuses by Israel's West Bank proxy, Fatah's General Intelligence Service (GIS) against Muhannad Salahat, a writer and human rights activist. Also, writer Walid al-Hodali's Preventive Security Service (PSS) arrest, confiscation of his personal computer, and refusal to return it after his release. These actions violate international human rights standards, the Palestinian Basic Law, and other relevant PA ones.

Salahat was arrested, prevented from traveling, and summoned to appear before GIS interrogators. He explained what happened as follows:

On March 28 at 10PM, he was arrested at the Jericho Palestinian Crossing and Search Center, interrogated several times, and not at first given reasons. He was then asked about his writings and documentary films for Al-Jazeera television - "crimes and grave errors that he committed against the Palestinian national project, represented by the Palestinian Authority."

During detention and interrogation, he was mistreated and forced to let GIS read his incoming emails. After release on April 12, GIS kept his laptop, camera, and external hard drive containing documentary film footage. They also required him to call "all his friends and ask them to end the media campaign that they had launched against the Palestinian Authority."

On April 15, GIS returned his belongings, after deleting 23 hours of video from his hard drive. On April 19, he tried to cross from Jericho to Jordan, was stopped, then allowed to enter, but prevented by a Jordanian officer who said the PA prohibited his entry. On April 26, he was ordered to appear before the GIS on May 1 with a warning that "failure to appear at the specified time and on the specified date, would result in the issuing of an arrest warrant against him."

Besides his writing and filmmaking, Salahat is a member of the Palestinian Association for Human Rights (RASED). His persecution continues.

On April 26, al-Hodali was arrested at his Ramallah home. His property was also searched and his personal computer confiscated. He was then taken to PSS headquarters, interrogated about his political affiliations, and released. He reported that as of late April, his computer hadn't been returned.

PCHR expressed "grave concern (about) the re-occurrence of attacks against the right to freedom of expression and press freedoms." It stressed the importance of protecting journalists, the media, and human rights activists, "and of taking all necessary measures to allow them to perform their work freely."

The Palestinian Basic Law and international standards affirm free expression and opinion. So is the freedom of movement principle. Violating them by or for Israel or any other authority is unacceptable any time, under any conditions, for any purpose.

Knesset Legislation to Conceal Information and Stifle Dissent

An Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel April 29 press release discussed Israeli human rights groups' response to a proposed Knesset bill to suppress information exposing serious international law breaches, calling it a danger to democracy.

At issue is a proposed Associations (Amutot) Law (Amendment - Exceptions to the Registration and Activity of an Association), introduced on April 28, that if passed, will prohibit the registration of any NGO if:

"there are reasonable grounds to conclude that the association is providing information to foreign entities or is involved in legal proceedings abroad against senior Israeli government officials or IDF officers, for war crimes."

Existing NGOs will also be subject to closure under the proposed law.

It's contrary to international criminal and humanitarian law standards. If enacted, it will be "an official admission (by Israel) that it is committing war crimes." It will also force human rights organizations (and other public voices) to be silent and cease efforts to prevent the continuity of such actions, or face prosecution.

The bill validates other Israeli crackdowns against human rights organizations in recent months. More on that briefly below.

"The legislation also seeks, contrary to all constitutional principles, to restrict the freedom of expression and freedom of association of these organizations, and also creates public de-legitimization of their educational, legal and public role."

Further, the bill will impede efforts of victims to seek redress by excluding them from Israel's legal system. It tells Palestinians and the world that their lives and rights don't matter, a message well understood in the Territories.

What better argument for exercising universal jurisdiction, the right of all nations to investigate and prosecute foreign nationals who commit the most serious crimes, especially related to war and against humanity - Israel's specialty, yet they, in fact, used it to convict and execute Adolph Eichmann for his holocaust crimes, only indirectly connected to Israel.

Universal jurisdiction doesn't supersede national prosecutions. It complements them as an authority to act when criminal nations won't, and implicit in the principle is they must to assure the rule of law and not let its worst abusers go unpunished.

The following Israeli human rights groups responded to the proposed legislation: Adalah, B'Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Bimkom, Gisha, Hamoked, Physicians for Human Rights - Israel, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PACTI), and Yesh Din.

They accused Israel of breaching international law, saying:

"Instead of defending democracy, the sponsors of this bill prefer to reduce it to ashes. This bill is the direct result of irresponsible leadership that is doing all it can to undermine democratic values and the institutions that are the backbone of a democracy: the Supreme Court, a free press, and human rights organizations," supporting rights that nations and others violate.

If enacted, this measure will represent "an unprecedented moral nadir within the Israeli house of parliament," that in recent years has become increasingly hard line, embracing a doctrine typical of fascism.

For months, Israel security forces, politicians, and extremist groups have been targeting the above human rights organizations and others (including Breaking the Silence, Rabbis for Human Rights, and international ones) for supporting Goldstone Commission findings and demanding accountability.

In February, 2010, activists were arrested, held in prison and then deported, including Spanish journalist Ariadna Jove Marti and Australian student Bridgette Chappell. Both women belong to the International Solidarity Movement, yet an IDF spokesperson said they were "involved in illegal riots that obstruct Israeli security operations."

Thirteen human rights organizations condemned this and similar abuses, B'Tselem among them (on February 2) saying:

"A democracy must not silence critical voices; protecting human rights is vital."

Hagai Ed-Ad, Executive Director of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) added:

"Human rights organizations are the moral conscience of our society. Their activity is a critical element of a healthy democracy. A democratic country does not support the deliberate silencing of the critical voices that operate within it but deals honestly with what needs to be corrected."

Netanyahu's government has accelerated Israeli fascism with a supportive Knesset, its most racist in history according to a recent Mossawa Advocacy Center study, including passing laws in violation of Supreme Court rulings as well as international norms and standards.

In Israel and the Territories, extremism and repression occur daily. In a May 2 press release, the West Bank-based "Friends of Freedom and Justice - Bilin" highlights one of many abuses, saying:

"Iyad Burnat, a leader in the popular struggle against the Israeli wall, was banned by Israel's military from crossing (into) Jordan on Saturday."

Burnat heads the local anti-Wall committee in Bilin, where organized protests have been ongoing for five years, despite repressive violence, arrests, and unprovoked killings.

He called this latest incident "just another episode of Israel's aggression on us....soldiers detained me for three hours and then told me to go back (saying it was) for security reasons."

In 2009 and recent months, Israeli security forces killed 29 Palestinians during nonviolent protests against the Separation Wall, including Bassem Abu Rahma, shot at close range in the chest with a high velocity tear gas bomb. Dozens of others have been targeted, arrested, brutalized during incarceration, and held up to 10 months for their activism and popular resistance.

On April 30, in honor of International Workers' Day by the Union of Palestine Workers, Bilin protestors gathered at the Wall. Straightaway, they were attacked by tear gas, then arrests, including an international activist (roughed up, thrown to the ground, and injured), a female journalist, and Al-Jazeera cameraman, Haitham al-Khatib, struck in the stomach by a tear gas canister.

In March 2010, the IDF declared the area between Bilin and the Separation Wall a closed military zone from 8AM - 8PM on Fridays, the day protest marches and demonstrations occur. Nonetheless, Burnat says:

"We will not be silenced, we will continue to resist, we refuse to die in silence, we will continue to cry out for peace and justice to a world whose ears are deaf to the agony of Palestine," as well as to increasing harshness against Jews and others who expose Israeli crimes and demand accountability.


Stephen Lendman

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. His blog is sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on May 31, 2010.
 

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